The Cybrarian, February 18, 2012 (view all comments by The Cybrarian)
First visited by foreigners in when Captain James Cook arrived in 1778, Hawaii was already an established society with a thriving culture and economy. The arrival of Christian missionaries thirty years later and the subsequent conversion of the Royal Family to Christianity was only the first link in a chain of events that eventually led to the American military annexation of this sovereign nation in America's first act of international imperialism beyond its own borders.
Award-winning journalist and author of the New York times best-seller, The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty, Julia Flynn Siler, tells the story of Queen Lili'uokalani, sovereign of a nation already heavily mortgaged to foreign interests when she took power at the end of the nineteenth century. The gradual erosion of a broad-based subsistence economy eventually led to the creation of a one-crop system based on the raising and exporting of sugar cane for the benefit of a small group of wealthy men known as the sugar kings. Finally, the U.S. Marines landed on the island and, marching to the palace, incited the monarch's overthrow.
Ms. Flynn Siler's accessible style brings the reader into the life of the island immediately with her glossary of native Hawaiian words so important to our understanding of local cultural concepts. The main players are introduced straight off and then the historical drama begins to proceed to, what seems to be, its inevitable conclusion. Her lively writing avoids the pitfall of dry, historical reportage, retaining the colorful palate of the islands themselves in order to better illustrate their unique story.
Equal parts history lesson, human drama and social, political and economic commentary, Lost Kingdom is an insightful look into America's past and may provide an important lesson for those who will determine her future. For today's Americans, desirous of a more responsible participation in world affairs, this examination of the events of the last century may lead to better understanding of a unique part of our own nation and a clearer view of the effects of our participation in the affairs of other nations.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Tammy Dotts, January 3, 2012 (view all comments by Tammy Dotts)
As America expanded beyond its original 13 colonies, almost all new states and territories were added through treaties, purchases or by claiming land the U.S. government felt no one owned. Texans will tell you their state was an independent country before annexation although Mexico refused to acknowledge its independence.
Then there’s Hawaii. The chain of islands, annexed in 1898, was originally a series of island kingdoms before being unified in 1810 under Kamehameha I after a series of battles. Seven kings and one queen ruled the island chain before the monarchy crumbled under an influx of foreigners who invested heavily in the country.
Julia Flynn Siler’s Lost Kingdom details the end of Hawaiian independence in a fact-filled book that falls just short of a must-read.
The story of Hawaii’s downfall is readymade for Hollywood -- kings and queens fighting for their people, villainous sugar-cane magnates, midnight coups, secret messages encoded in songs. The facts as Siler lays them out should be a more compelling read than they are. Perhaps Lost Kingdom’s shortcomings are only apparent when judged against other history books, such as those by Erik Larsen. And it may be unfair to judge Siler’s work against Larsen. The two writers have different styles, and a reader’s personal preference may determine which comes out on top.
Siler begins her tale of Hawaii before its last monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani takes the throne. The book explains the Hawaiian acceptance of visiting missionaries and lays the groundwork for what should be a peaceful future.
To the Hawaiians’ detriment, the foreign population brings disease for which the native population has no natural defense. The native population begins to decrease as Europeans and Americans increase their numbers. Marriages between Hawaiians and outsides further dilute the native population.
As children raised by missionaries come of age, economic forces begin to tug at Hawaii. The islands can grow sugar and foreign investors are quick to start building empires and making their fortunes. When the crown needs to borrow money, it is foreign loans that shore up the throne. And with those loans come requests for favors and political power.
Siler portrays an almost inevitable march to Hawaii’s subjugation to outside influence. By 1887, King Kalākaua is forced to sign what becomes known as the Bayonet Constitution. The new constitution moves power from the King to his cabinet and legislature. Foreign resident aliens could now vote as could Hawaiians who met economic and literacy requirements. Asian immigrants, who made up a substantial part of the islands’ population, saw their right to vote taken away.
Lost Kingdom wants to place Lili’uokalani as its central figure, but history dictates other figures take center stage before Lili’uokalani gains the throne. Siler is rightly fascinated by Hawaii’s queen (whose authorship of one of Hawaii’s most famous songs “Aloha Oe” is among her many accomplishments), but that fascination sometimes leads to a less detailed portrayal of other monarchs or the sugar barons. The book is not an objective look at Hawaii’s history; Siler tells the story from Hawaii’s point of view. Claus Spreckels, Lorrin Thurston and other foreigners are clear villains, motivated by profit and not caring about the Hawaiian people. After reading Lost Kingdom, it’s hard to argue otherwise, particularly in the case of Thurston who seemed to take personal pleasure in destroying the monarchy. One suspects another side of the story exists.
Lost Kingdom is a worthwhile read for those interested in Hawaiian history and culture, America’s expansion and how less powerful governments and people can be swept away by an economic tide. It’s not a perfect book and readers truly interested in Hawaii should seek out a more balanced book, but Siler’s story is interesting.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Behind the modern bustle of the nation's only island state lies this sad, sobering tale of decline, betrayal, and imperialism. It centers on the admirable last monarch of the Hawaiians, Queen Lilu'okalani, who struggled against palace intrigue, American sugar barons, and eventually cynical American military diplomacy before losing her throne in 1893, a few years before the U.S. simply annexed the Hawaiian islands as American territory. Wall Street Journal contributing writer Siler (The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty) skillfully weaves the tangled threads of this story into a satisfying tapestry about the late 19th-century death of a small nation at the hands of United States imperialists and businessmen like Claus Spreckels, a German immigrant grocer turned sugar refiner, who by 1876 had bought up half of Hawaii's anticipated sugar crop. The leading character, the queen, comes off as more done to than doing, yet Siler convinces you that the well-meaning, staunch Lilu'okalani had few options when confronted with superior power. Siler's history would have benefited from an interpretive thread, but it makes up in sympathetic detail what it lacks in stimulating ideas." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Around 200 A.D., intrepid Polynesians arrived at an undisturbed archipelago. For centuries, their descendants lived with little contact from the western world. In 1778, their isolation was shattered with the arrival of Captain Cook.
Deftly weaving together a memorable cast of characters, Lost Hawaii brings to life the ensuing clash between a vulnerable Polynesian people and relentlessly expanding capitalist powers. Portraits of royalty and rogues, sugar barons, and missionaries combine into a sweeping tale of the Hawaiian Kingdoms rise and fall.
At the center of the story is Liliuokalani, the last queen of Hawaii. Born in 1838, she lived through the nearly complete economic transformation of the islands. Lucrative sugar plantations gradually subsumed the majority of the land, owned almost exclusively by white planters, dubbed the Sugar Kings.” Hawaii became a prize in the contest between America, Britain, and France, each seeking to expand their military and commercial influence in the Pacific.
The monarchy had become a figurehead, victim to manipulation from the wealthy sugar plantation owners. Liliuokalani was determined to enact a constitution to reinstate the monarchys power but was outmaneuvered by the U.S. The annexation of Hawaii had begun, ushering in a new century of American imperialism.
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