Synopses & Reviews
“Vowell makes an excellent travelling companion, what with her rare combination of erudition and cheek.”
—The New York Times Book Review
Many think of 1776 as the most defining year of American history, the year we became a nation devoted to the pursuit of happiness through self-government. In Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell argues that 1898 might be a year just as crucial to our nation’s identity, when, in an orgy of imperialism, the United States annexed Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam, and invaded Cuba, and then the Philippines, becoming a meddling, self-serving, militaristic international superpower practically overnight.
Of all the countries the United States invaded or colonized in 1898, Vowell considers the story of the Americanization of Hawaii to be the most intriguing. From the arrival of the New England missionaries in 1820, who came to Christianize the local heathen, to the coup d’état led by the missionaries’ sons in 1893, overthrowing the Hawaiian queen, the events leading up to American annexation feature a cast of beguiling if often appalling or tragic characters. Whalers who will fire cannons at the Bible-thumpers denying them their god-given right to whores. An incestuous princess pulled between her new god and her brother-husband. Sugar barons, con men, Theodore Roosevelt, and the last Hawaiian queen, a songwriter whose sentimental ode “Aloha ‘Oe” serenaded the first Hawaii-born president of the United States during his 2009 inaugural parade.
With Vowell’s trademark wry insights and reporting, she lights out to discover the odd, emblematic, and exceptional history of the fiftieth state. In examining the place where Manifest Destiny got a sunburn, she finds America again, warts and all.
"Vowell's voice, familiar to NPR listeners, is something of an acquired taste: wobbly, unpolished, with a little-girl tone that some might find grating. Listening to Vowell read her entire book might be too much of an occasionally good thing, but she effectively tones down her vocal persona by providing a star-studded array of other voices. Reading her own comic tale of the history of Hawaii and its elected kings, fruit barons, and the mixed blessings of manifest destiny, Vowell punctuates her book with brief snatches of guest readers, passing off quotations to the likes of Paul Rudd and John Slattery. Their presence, low-key as it might be, enlivens the book, giving it the feel of dialogue rather than lecture. A Riverhead hardcover. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Bestselling author Sarah Vowell takes listeners on a historical journey to the tropical paradise of Hawaii, a place where American ideals went to die.
About the Author
Sarah Vowell is a contributing editor for public radio's This American Life and has written for Time, Esquire, GQ, Spin, Salon, McSweeneys, The Village Voice, and the Los Angeles Times. She is the author of Radio On, Take the Cannoli, and The Partly Cloudy Patriot. She lives in New York City.John Slattery has starred on Broadway in Rabbit Hole, Betrayal, and Laughter on the 23rd Floor. Off-Broadway credits include Three Days of Rain (L.A. Critics Award, Drama Desk nom.), and The Lisbon Traviata. On television he has been seen in Ed, K Street, Sex & the City, and Will & Grace. Films include Flags of Our Fathers, Mona Lisa Smile, The Station Agent,Traffic, and Sleepers.