One of the most rewarding aspects of travel can happen before we leave home: reading about our destination. While a good guidebook is indispensible, a history can do much to enrich our understanding of the place and people we are about to meet.
Such is the case with Susanna Moore’s vibrant new book, Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii. A novelist (The Life of Objects) who has also written a memoir about growing up in the 50th state (I Myself Have Seen It), Moore brings considerable storytelling skills to her subject. She sees the history of the Hawaiian Islands as “a story of arrivals,” one that encompasses not only flora and fauna blown by the winds but early Polynesian travelers, explorers, missionaries and whalers.
Moore focuses most intensively on the often heartbreaking clashes that arose when native Hawaiians came in contact with Europeans, beginning with Captain Cook’s landing in 1778. For the native people of Hawaii, foreigners became “the source of the darkness that made darkness.”
It took a little more than a century for this isolated, structured society to undergo profound cultural and social transformations that had a devastating impact. As Moore notes, “the Hawaiian people, thanks to the introduction of diseases to which they had no immunity, and an encompassing melancholia that overtook them with the loss of their culture, came close to disappearing as a race.”
While Moore’s book does not extend to present day, it will likely make readers curious to find out more, which is just as it should be. “The task of understanding the past is never-ending,” she writes. Paradise of the Pacific reminds us that beyond Hawaii’s beautiful beaches lies a complex, multi-layered history we can only begin to appreciate.