While planning a Hawaiian vacation, I realized that my ignorance was profound. Searching for understanding, I read Michener’s HAWAII. This was a wonderful introduction. Wow! What an epic story! I heartily recommend. Despite its great length it’s fairly easy to read – say, about three times as hard as Harry Potter, but something an intelligent high schooler could greatly enjoy and, benefit from.
The book’s greatness grew on me. At first I chuckled at what I saw as a clumsy demonization of a 19th century missionary. But … then it began reminding me of Steinbeck’s EAST OF EDEN, where the telling of a story via “cartoon characters” was simply a requirement for constructing an epic. Both novels are ripping good cartoons, but when taken as a whole, far more than that. You feel bamboozled by master showmen, but also inspired and educated. Michener is not the poet that Steinbeck is, but he is an intellectual with many ideas: about the nature of islands, religion, racism, time and what survives, and WWII.
At times the way that events and characters would be bound together across hundreds of years (and pages) struck me and the effort put into the book showed.
If you can draw a moral from these pages, it is a pragmatic one. The characters who survive and thrive are the ones who are awake and adapt. The morally or intellectually lazy and brittle ones suffer and are forgotten, because time presses on and something new is always coming. In the end, I think Michener’s sympathy lies with life itself. You see the cartoonization going on but, at different points in the book he argues for, ultimately conflicting positions so clearly, that you are hard pressed to pin him down as a Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, or a Republican or a Democrat or … you see what I mean. He transcends easy labels.
This book is a great way to get a feel for “the meaning” of history, and the end result is, that I feel inspired to read more, and be more.
Thanks, James Michener! I think TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC may be my next book.