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Mark Twain's Letters from Hawaii Paperback – July 1, 1975

4.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hearing Layne read Mark Twain's newspaper dispatches from Hawaii gives one the invigorating sense of visiting an exotic locale as well as a different era. Those who treat themselves to these blustery, spirited letters will experience a journey in every sense of the word. Before writing his first novel, the penniless journalist got a four-month-long gig writing about his travels in the "the loveliest fleet of islands that lie anchor in any ocean." Layne reads the letters as Twain might have, not backing down during parts that may sound questionable to modern ears (e.g., Twain's repeated congratulations to the missionaries for quashing native customs). In this thoughtfully abridged collection, one letter may rhapsodize about scenery while the next delves into death rituals for a native princess; the result is a listening experience that feels balanced, not overdone. Though few people other than lovers of Hawaii will likely tune in to these letters, those who do will never see their favorite vacation spot (or home) in quite the same way again. They will also receive a reminder of why Twain's legacy has endured. Based on the Univ. of Hawaii Press paperback. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

Review

"An amalgam of workaday journalism, whimsy, shrewd and poetic observation, accurate commercial prophecy...and tongue-in-cheek tall tales." -- Times Literary Supplement

"The unmistakable touch of [Twain's] comic genius can be seen, that sly alternation of hyperbole and deadpan understatement." -- The Wall Street Journal

"Twain's powers of observation and description are unsurpassed...a vivid picture of the life and scenery of these lovely islands." --Saturday Review
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: University of Hawaii Press (July 1, 1975)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0824802888
  • ISBN-13: 978-0824802882
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,481 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roy W. Latham on June 18, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What is it about the Hawaiian Islands that is so profoundly affecting? Twain was the ultimate skeptic, yet the Islands won him over in a minute. This collection of newspaper columns tells us why, and it is story that remains relevant to Island visitors and lucky residents. Twain was as well travelled as anyone of his day, and had no trouble identifying Hawaii as not just a pleasant place, but a unique place on earth. He hoped to live out his days on the Islands, but never made it back. Modern travellers sometimes wonder about the attractions of the Islands versus other places with warm climates. No one has explained it better than Twain.
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Format: Paperback
Having just finished reading Twain's Roughing It, and having received this book as a gift, I decided to read them back to back. This is a compilation of the correspondence Mark Twain was hired to write from Hawaii (then the Sandwich Islands) for the California newspaper the Sacramento Union. These letters were written before he had published his first book, so he was still young and inexperienced as a writer. Yet all the elements of classic Twain are in here--the humour, the keen observation, the ear for vernacular speech. It is informative to notice that he used much of the material from these letters--at times verbatim--to create the last few chapters of "Roughing It". I would almost recommend reading "Roughing It" instead of these letters because the writing is more polished and edited for more readability, were it not for the fact that the letters contain some very interesting material that does not appear in "Roughing It". Specifically, Twain does an excellent job covering the trade and commerce of the Islands, specifically the whaling and sugar industries (I am a sucker for 19th century whaling stories), and delivers an exclusive report on the fate of the clipper ship 'Hornet', a ship that completely burned while on the open sea, stranding 31 men in open boats near the Equator. One boat made it to Hawaii and Twain was able to get a report off to California, the first anyone there had heard of it. This report later bacame the source for his piece "Forty-Three Days in an Open Boat".

I would recommend this book to those interested in early Hawaiian, or even California, history and those who would enjoy some early Mark Twain.
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This book is an excellent and quick read. It presents a picture of Hawaii that, unfortunately, will never be seen again. If you love the islands and/or Mark Twain's writing style, you'll love this book.
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The book itself cam in better shape than described. It appears to be brand new and unread.

The young Mark Twain is a character I hadn't met before. He was fresh from the goldfields and San Francisco -- and was fascinated by the beauty and grace of Hawaiian life. He wasn't Politicaly Correct in his view of the Native Peoples, but then - - seeing them as equals was not thinkable in the 1860s.

Nevertheless, his descriptions of songs, dances, chants, and especially hula are a valuable view of the authentic artistry. I have always questioned if hula and chants had become distorted during their periods of banishment by the Missionaries. I feared that what I saw at festivals today had been corrupted and "interpreted" by today's cultural masters.

Not to worry. What Twain described seems to be identical to what I see and hear today. The arts may have gone underground, but they were tended and cherished by genius.

A culture is termed "wealthy" if it has enough leisure time to develop a high art. By these terms, the Haida of the Pacific Northwest and the Native Hawaiians were as wealthy as any Aztec. They just didn't have metal to work with, and didn't need it, actually.

Twain went to visit Kilauea Volcano, then, as now, in eruption.

His enjoyment of social events, both high and low, make his stay in the islands what every traveller dreams of. He was enchanted.

Usually I pass on used books; but this one is a keeper.

Beverly in Honolulu
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By Graybeard on December 15, 2009
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is the audiobook edition of a collection of dispatches that Mark Twain wrote, as a newspaper correspondent, to the Sacramento Daily Union in 1866 during his 7-month sojourn in Hawaii. Mark Twain impressionist McAvoy Layne very ably does the reading for the audiobook edition, bringing Mark Twain's written narrative to life.

Letters from Hawaii provides a fascinating look at 19th century Hawaii -- the people, royalty, customs, culture, neighborhoods, infrastructure, commerce, government, volcanos, valleys, beaches, sea -- as well as a sprinkling of Mark Twain's inimitable humor. History buffs and Hawaiiana buffs will find Twain's first-hand, boots-on-the-ground observations of 19th century Hawaii uniquely satisfying.

I found almost every dispatch riveting. One that comes to mind now as I write this mini review is Mark Twain's account of his visit to the active volcano, Kilauea, on the Big Island, which he viewed both during the daytime and at night. In addition to Twain's powerful visual imagery describing the lava flows, he also interestingly describes the sounds of the volcano. "It makes three distinct sounds - a rushing, a hissing, and a coughing or puffing sound; and if you stand on the brink and close your eyes it is no trick at all to imagine that you are sweeping down a river on a large low pressure steamer, and that you hear the hissing of the steam about her boilers, the puffing from her escape pipes and the churning rush of the water abaft her wheels. The smell of sulfur is strong, but not unpleasant to a sinner."

Whether you are a Mark Twain buff, history buff, travel story buff, kama'aina or a malihini, chances are you will find this book enjoyable.
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