By Anya Shukla
I talked to someone from Hawaii last week, and she mentioned that the state relies heavily on the mainland for supplies. Because Hawaii imports almost everything its people eat, if the rest of the U.S. stopped exporting (due to shipping problems, for example), Hawaii would run out of food in two weeks(!).
Because of this, the state is trying to become more self-reliant by bringing back some of the old ways of food production—such as fish ponds or taro plants—that got eliminated during the annexation of Hawaii by America.
Which transitions us perfectly into today’s book :)
Review: “Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen” describes the life of Queen Liliuokalani: first, her journey from a young ward to the heir apparent to the Hawaiian throne, and then her experience as ruler during the annexation of her country by the United States. Liliuokalani details the ways the American media sullied her and her family’s reputations and attempts to address their erroneous commentary.
While the first half of the memoir contains far too many descriptions of parties, travels, and Liliuokalani’s day-to-day recollections, the second half contains a fascinating and necessary history of the annexation. My Rating: 3/5.
What I Loved: The history (naturally). From what I could understand, the majority of Hawaiians did not want annexation or to be lead by the “missionary party” (basically, American missionaries who became Hawaiian businessmen). Instead, Hawaiian-based Americans with sugar interests (like Sanford Dole) overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy and pushed for annexation, as it would allow them to increase their influence and riches. Although annexation had been proposed in the past, the Spanish-American War and strategic interests in Pearl Harbor finally inspired the U.S. to claim Hawaii as a colony during Liliuokalani’s reign.
Interestingly, the media also played a role in drumming up interest in annexation, first painting Native Hawaiians as backwards to portray America as their “savior.” When that approach did not produce the intended results, they depicted Hawaii as a nation that deserved annexation as a reward for its well-functioning government and society.
Liliuokalani also notes that she faced slander from the press during her time in Washington D.C. As she demonstrates throughout her memoir, however, she doesn’t deserve American ridicule. Several times, when the missionary party asks her to cement their status in the Hawaiian government, she wiggles her way out of their trap with some well-applied, borderline-genius legal logic. She’s quite sociable (as evidenced by the many, many parties she attends and describes in detail) and very smart (as her Shakespearian allusions that went over my head would suggest), in contrast to the stereotypes pervasive in the late 1800s. In writing and disseminating this book, she pushes back against the narrative that Native Hawaiians aren’t as capable as Americans.
What I Didn’t Love: The pacing. Maybe it’s because this is a nonfiction book written about the late 1800s… but I just could not pay attention for the first half of this memoir. Liliuokalani keeps name-dropping miscellaneous individuals—“Governor Pacheco; also Mr. Henry Bishop, brother of Mr. Charles R. Bishop, who married my sister Bernice; Mr. H.W. Severance… Mr. R.S. Floyd… Mr. and Mrs. Toler of Oakland; Mrs. Haalelea and Mrs. Coney… and many others” (pg. 89)—who have little relevance to the book’s main conflict. Plus, she often mentions random side characters who never show up again: “there was amidst the shining throng one young lady, tall and of commanding presence, whose sole ornament was a single glittering star fixed in her hair… she was a lady of high rank, and it is a matter of regret to me that I did not learn her name” (pg. 190). Who on earth is this young lady, who fails to appear in the pages that follow? And why did Liliuokalani feel the need to mention her if she has no relevance at all?
The addition of these extraneous details feels like something a grandparent would do… and since Liliuokalani was in her 60s when she wrote this book, I guess her writing style kinda makes sense. But the story still drags.
A Quote I Would Like On Goodreads: “It is for them that I would give the last drop of my blood; it is for them that I would spend, nay, am spending everything belonging to me. Will it be in vain?” (pg. 460).
Up next: “For Today I Am a Boy" by Kim Fu.
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