My first Michener, and the first book I’ve read this past year – another testament to my state of laziness after moving back to Vietnam. (Note to self: read more books this year). +1000 pages of engrossing stories, from cracks in the ocean floor in time immemorial, to the epic migration in double-hulled canoe from the South Pacific, to Hawai’i drastic evolution in society, governance, religion following the arrivals of white missionaries and traders, and finally the arrival of imported labors from China and Japan which lad to the eventual mix of all races in these islands.

Many visitors to the islands like the book because it gives them an entertaining explanation of the island way. They learn about the grief of the natives over losing their land, their religion, and their culture. They get a glimpse into why Japanese run offices and Chinese own land.

Residents like to hate on the book. Missionaries children don’t like being painted as feudal lords (which they uncontestedly were). Hawaiians don’t like the scathing remarks that Michener levies against the royal ali’i, especially the last queen of Hawai’i Liliuokalani, who is still so beloved by her people and a lasting symbol of Hawaiian sovereignty.

Once a temporary resident, I am a lot more lenient. Michener is known for his meticulous research into historical facts and figures. But at the end of the day, this is fiction, and I judge it more on its literary merits. (Plus the history of Hawai’i is so delicate and convoluted, no matter how you tell it and from what perspective, you’re bound to upset some groups). I held my breath as Bora Bora’s King Tamatoa, his brother Teroro, and their men battle with uncertainty as their maneuver their canoe up the vast unknown ocean, looking for signs of a land they do not know exist or not. I wept when ali’i Kelolo on his knees brings the fragant maile to his queen Malama, the love of his life, who take away the meaning of his existence when she departs to join her ancestors. I laughed and empathized with the hardworking and sneaky Kee family’s matriarchal as she arranges marriages for her kids and grandkids, and along the way consolidates her empire. (Vietnamese moms are no less!)

I finished the book in only 2 days, and can’t wait to read his other works.