Review: Unfamiliar Fishes

Posted on March 17, 2011

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Unfamiliar Fishes
By Sarah Vowell
Riverhead Books
March 2011
256 pages

On page one Vowell establishes a clever metaphor for the theme of this book. She is in Hawaii eating a plate lunch of macaroni salad and shoyu chicken under a banyan tree. What do they all have in common? The banyan tree, shoyu chicken, macaroni salad, and author are all from somewhere else. From then on, Vowell takes readers on a rollicking voyage back to 1778, when James Cook landed on the shores of Kauai and named the archipelago the Sandwich Islands, through the next hundred years as the proud warrior natives endured the mishmash of cultures as they exploded onto their shores. Whether it was clashes between the New England missionaries and the sailors looking for rum and prostitutes, or Great Britain and the US fighting over imperialism, the Hawaiian natives were always caught in the middle. However, as Vowell shrewdly points out, they were often willing participants in the demise of their ancient customs. Throughout this extraordinary history of the kingdom of Hawaii Vowell injects her usual wink-wink nudge-nudge style of humor which makes Unfamiliar Fishes a fascinating and fun read.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Peggy Tibbetts

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