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 Kingdom's rise and fall. At the center of the story is Lili uokalani, the last queen of Hawai i. 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. Hawai i 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. Lili uokalani was determined to enact a constitution to reinstate the monarchy's power but was outmaneuvered by the U.S. The annexation of Hawai i had begun, ushering in a new century of American imperialism.
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. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Atlantic Monthly Press
January 02, 2012
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