cover image Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii

Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii

Susanna Moore. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-29877-7

Novelist and memoirist Moore (The Life of Objects) takes inspiration from her childhood in Hawaii to craft an insightful history of the archipelago, from its first wave of settlers in the 6th century through its annexation by the U.S. in 1898. She focuses largely on the tumultuous years following Capt. James Cook’s 1778 discovery of the islands and how contact with the outside world disrupted everything. As cultures clash, several major narratives emerge. The first is the effect of trade and commerce: “The chiefs acquired new desires, which demanded a different kind of labor from their people.” Though island culture was transformed through industry, it was radically upended with the introduction of Christianity: “The fixed world of the Hawaiians, governed by a hereditary ali’i and priesthood with a distinctive system of kapu [taboo], suddenly became one of flux, if not chaos.” Moore is honest about the peculiarities of the old ways—“to be Hawaiian before the overthrow of the old gods in 1819 was to live in an unending state of terror”—and she’s equally upfront about the devastation wrought in the aftermath. This is a fascinating and well-balanced look at how a unique culture came to be and the heartbreaking manner of its end. Illus. [em]Agent: Stephanie Cabot, the Gernert Agency. (Aug.) [/em]