Friday, May 27, 2011

Audiobook of the week: Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

With all the fascination around the British royal wedding, I wondered how many know which state in America is the only one that actually has a palace? The answer is Hawaii. Besides the people of Hawaii, President Obama and history buffs I am not sure how many know the answer.

I at least didn't know it until listening to
'Unfamiliar Fishes', Sarah Vowell's fascinating journey into the history of Hawaii (Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio). This is also our recommended audiobook this week!

What is Unfamiliar Fishes about?
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'√Čtat 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.

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.

What we think of Unfamiliar Fish?
I don't consider myself a history buff and I've never been in Hawaii so I was a little bit afraid I'll get bored with this audiobook. Well, I was wrong. Vowell has a gift of presenting a story in such a way that makes you want to stay in the car until the last minute of this audiobook. It was fascinating.

Her strength comes from the fact she's not historian, but more of an explorer that is fascinated with what she sees and learn. Combine this thirst for knowledge and understanding our world with Vowell's unique style that takes history apart and reconstruct it with little anecdotes as its building blocks and you get the modern history of Hawaii in its most interesting form ever.

Now this is the time to say something about the audiobook format. I believe 'Unfamiliar Fish' is one of the cases where the advantages of hearing a story in this format are so obvious. Vowell is a great story teller and by hearing her telling the story rather than just reading it, I believe you get a better chance to fully enjoy her witty style. She is also getting some help from some great actors who read bits of the book, like
John Slattery, Paul Rudd, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, John Hodgman, Catherine Keener, Edward Norton, Keanu Reeves and Maya Rudolph.

Hear an excerpt from the audibook:

Disclosure: We received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher (Simon and Simon Audio).

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting sustainable reading!