Two books about Hawaii

Although the weather has been unseasonably warm for New England, it’s still easy this time of year to dream about warmer climes. Here are two great books that take place in Hawaii, but both show a darker side to the tropical paradise.

In Alan Brennert’s novel Moloka’i, we are transported to a leper colony in the 1890’s where we meet 7-year-old Rachel Kalama. Her forced banishment seems like the end, but it is in fact only the beginning. In the colony Rachel is taken into the fold of her new makeshift family, learns about her rich cultural heritage, and meets the man she will eventually marry. As you would expect, there is sadness in this epic novel, but there is also a great deal of beauty and hope.

If you want to read more about the real-life leper colony on Moloka’i, check out The Colony by John Tayman.

Alan Brennert has also revisited Hawaii in his more recent novel Honolulu, in which he tells the story of a young mail-order bride who travels to Hawaii from Korea in 1914.

We’ve all heard of the Oscar-winning movie The Descendants, but did you know it was based on a book?

Matt King is struggling to parent his two daughters, aged 10 and 18, while his wife lies in the hospital in a coma following a boating accident. He soon learns that she was having an affair and sets out to find and confront her lover. Meanwhile, Matt also needs to make a decision about selling a large parcel of land that has been in his family for generations.

Though the movie adaptation received a great deal of critical acclaim, there is so much more in the novel. Matt’s insights and observations are a large part of the book’s appeal, but don’t really make it onto the big screen. There is also more background about his marriage, his relationship with his daughters, and the humorously dull-witted teenage interloper Sid (who happens to be my favorite character in both the book and film.)

Of course, you may just want to skip the reading and take an actual trip. In that case, we have plenty of travel guides to help you too!

You’ll want some background music for your reading or travel planning, so I recommend the Youtube page for Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, a Hawaiian musician you may recognize from his popular rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”


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One Response to Two books about Hawaii

  1. jarch says:

    Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell is also a great nonfiction book about Hawaii (and the New England missionaries). The audiobook is excellent too!

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