January 19, 2013
Lost Kingdom by Julia Flynn Siler
Lost Kingdom says on its cover that it is about Hawaii's last queen, the sugar kings, and America's First Imperial Adventure. I'd say to an extent it's about those things, but largely it was about the Queen Lili'uokalani. The history covered a little bit about when traders, Captain Cook and missionaries came to the islands, but really started going into detail when Lili'u (shortened for ease) was born and then follows her through the time she is deposed and Hawaii is annexed by the United States. There is a little bit about what happens after she's gone, but like the time before she was born, it was only briefly covered.
Lili'u is described very favorably in this book. Especially when compared to the myriad of other people that are described. Those sugar barons, Thurston, Dole, & Spreckel, who were big businessmen in Hawaii. Her husband is also somewhat described, but not in favorable terms. And of her adopted children, barely anything is said about them. She is the main focus of this book. And while she's well described, I was looking for more than that since I thought the book would be about more than just her. The average Hawaiian person is barely mentioned in the book at all. Which is another thing I fault it for. Hawaii is its people, much like any other country, and to only show the rich, royal or powerful does a disservice to the history.
The writing style is very dry. There is a lot of detail, and I hesitate to call it textbook like because there have been many textbooks I've enjoyed, but there's just nothing to really sink into in this book. You can be reading a paragraph about one topic only to immediately jump into the next paragraph about something completely different and the overall effect wasn't cohesive. Important details, like her husband's death and other things are told in only a few sentences. And could easily be missed if you are just skimming the book. It's clear that she did a lot of research (as evidenced by the over one hundred pages of sources, end-notes, indices, and bibliography at the end of the book. In fact, I'd say that section takes up a good third of the book so you end up finishing it sooner than you think you would. And as this is the first book I've really read on Hawaii, I can't comment on if the facts are actually true or not. It looks like a lot of research, but as others have said, when calling the Hula sensual, it just doesn't ring authentic.
One aspect I did enjoy was the list of terms at the front for different Hawaiian words. It helped when I encountered them within the book itself, although struggling with pronunciation in my head was difficult.
I can't say that I'd recommend this book to anyone. It took a very interesting topic and made it dull. It was so hard for me to finish the book that I had to take it just a chapter at a time, which is very unusual for me. Perhaps somewhere out there will be a book about Hawaii that will captivate me.
302 pages (415 pages with all the misc. stuff)