Unfamiliar Fishes

Sarah Vowell, Read by
Sarah Vowell, Riverhead, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-59448-787-3
Reviewed on: 12/20/2010
Release date: 03/01/2011
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4423-3730-5
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4618-2536-4
Compact Disc - 978-1-4423-3729-9
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-101-48645-0
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-101-48521-7
Hardcover - 341 pages - 978-1-4104-3825-6
Paperback - 238 pages
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Recounting the brief, remarkable history of a unified and independent Hawaii, Vowell, a public radio star and bestselling author (The Wordy Shipmates), retraces the impact of New England missionaries who began arriving in the early 1800s to remake the island paradise into a version of New England. In her usual wry tone, Vowell brings out the ironies of their efforts: while the missionaries tried to prevent prostitution with seamen and the resulting deadly diseases, the natives believed it was the missionaries who would kill them: "they will pray us all to death." Along the way, and with the best of intentions, the missionaries eradicated an environmentally friendly, laid-back native culture (although the Hawaiians did have taboos against women sharing a table with men, upon penalty of death, and a reverence for "royal incest"). Freely admitting her own prejudices, Vowell gives contemporary relevance to the past as she weaves in, for instance, Obama's boyhood memories. Outrageous and wise-cracking, educational but never dry, this book is a thought-provoking and entertaining glimpse into the U.S.'s most unusual state and its unanticipated twists on the familiar story of Americanization. (Mar.)
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