Hawaii Makes Fiction Seem Like Biography

James A. Michener’s novel Hawaii earns the adjective epic just for its length. But the novel lives up to that accolade.

Michener takes readers from the volcanic eruption that birthed the islands up to statehood.  He weaves tales of four disparate peoples— Tahaitians, New Englanders, Chinese, Japanese —  into a seamless story that mimics the polyglot nature of the islands themselves.

As Michener tells it, the Tahaitans flee Bora Bora for religious and political freedom.

A thousand years later, American missionaries come to convert the Hawaiians by less bloody but equally repressive means. Descendants of the missionaries import  Chinese and Japanese laborers to work the fields and businesses their parents had established.

Each new wave of immigrants is regarded with suspicion and hostility by earlier ones.

World War II precipitates the breakdown of the barriers between the ethnic groups as grandchildren of immigrants declare themselves Americans.

The sea is both setting and symbol for Michener’s story. Only those who have the perseverance to defeat the sea have the character to shape the island’s destiny.

Michener makes his fiction read like biography, leaving readers convinced that the way he tells it was the way it was — which is the highest tribute that can be paid to any storyteller.

Hawaii
By James A. Michener
Random House, 1959
937 pages
1959  bestseller # 3
My Grade: A
© 2008 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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