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The Source: A Novel Paperback – July 9, 2002
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“Fascinating . . . stunning . . . [a] wonderful rampage through history . . . Biblical history, as seen through the eyes of a professor who is puzzled, appalled, delighted, enriched and impoverished by the spectacle of a land where all men are archeologists.”—The New York Times
“A sweeping [novel] filled with excitement—pagan ritual, the clash of armies, ancient and modern: the evolving drama of man’s faith.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Magnificent . . . a superlative piece of writing both in scope and technique . . . one of the great books of this generation.”—San Francisco Call Bulletin
From the Inside Flap
In his signature style of grand storytelling, James Michener sweeps us back through time to the Holy Land, thousands of years ago. By exploring the lives and discoveries of modern archaeologists excavating the site of Tell Makor, Michener vividly re-creates life in and around an ancient city during critical periods of its existence, and traces the profound history of the Jews, including that of the early Hebrews and their persecution, the impact of Christianity on the Jewish world, the Crusades, and the Spanish Inquisition. Michener weaves his epic tale of love, strength, and faith until at last he arrives at the founding of Israel and the modern conflict in the Middle East. The Source is not only a compelling history of the Holy Land and its people but a richly written saga that encompasses the development of Western civilization and the great religious and cultural ideas that have shaped our world.
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This similar to a town such as the Old City of Jersulaem which is now about 20 metres higher than its original beginnings thousands of years ago. Jesus didn't walk the streets of the present city, he walked then ten metres or more lower.
The historical fiction written in 1965 is based in the early 1960's during an archaeological dig and traces the various layers of civilizations from caveman to Caanites to Jewish to Christian to Muslim to the present.
It ponders the questions of Israel as a state in the 1960's woven through the individual stories of previous civilizations and their rise and fall. History in a sense repeating itself with the common denominator of change.
I recently read this literary masterpiece in preparation for an upcoming trip to Hawaii, the first time that I will have been there in over forty years.
Michener's massive work (nearly 1,100 pages) is peopled with fictional characters, but ones based very closely on the individuals who actually lived the tale. Michener dedicated his book "To all the peoples who came to Hawaii," and he structured the novel around them: the Polynesians, the missionaries from New England, and the Chinese and Japanese laborers. Each group brought unique qualities and strengths to the islands and left imprints that remain to this day. While the outlines of Michener's take on the history of Hawaii are basically true historically, he peopled his tale with characters of his own creation and molded their lives and stories to fit the historical outline.
The first Polynesian settlers of the uninhabited paradise of Hawaii came from the South Pacific (Bora Bora, according to Michener) around twelve hundred years ago in a "swift single-hulled outrigger canoe" that employed dedicated paddlers and a triangular sail. It contained a couple of dozen people, provisions for a long journey, two bred sows, taro plants, and religious artifacts. Michener portrayed those first settlers as fleeing an encroaching new religion in order to find a place where they were free to continue worshiping their old gods.
Things evolved slowly and peacefully for a thousand years until Captain Cook discovered the islands in the eighteenth century. After Cook's discovery of the islands, ships from various nations began sailing into Hawaii to replenish supplies and allow the sailors to become familiar with the native women. Soon missionaries from America began arriving to save the islanders from themselves and to combat the immorality being imported into paradise by the sailors.
Michener's eight fictional missionaries were all young Congregationalists educated at Yale. Their sponsors required that they be married in order to go to the islands and do God's work, and consequently most of the young men got married within days before their ship sailed out of Boston Harbor. After a harrowing journey of several months, living in cramped quarters and suffering filthy conditions and constant illness, the young men and their brides, several of whom became pregnant on the voyage, finally stepped ashore on the beautiful islands of Hawaii.
Michener described these missionaries as "people who came to do good - and did well," because as the years went by they and their descendants came to control the land and the economy of the islands. As the island's economy began turning toward agriculture, particularly the production of sugar cane, it became apparent that the relaxed nature of the native population was not going to lend itself well to field work, and farm laborers were sought from the Far East.
Chinese field hands were brought into the islands in the 1860's. One of Michener's most memorable characters in Hawaii was Nyuk Tsiu who was brought to the islands by a gambler who had a contract to deliver her to a whorehouse. The gambler had also signed a contract whereby he was to work five years as a field hand. Nyuk posed as the gambler's wife in order to board the ship with its cargo of male contract workers. The gambler became intrigued with Nyuk's aggressiveness and intelligence while enroute to Hawaii, and by the time the ship docked he had decided to buy out her prostitution contract and marry her. They had five sons, and by the time Nyuk died, in the 1950's at the age of one hundred and six, she had hundreds of descendants living in Hawaii and her family controlled much of the land and the economy of the emerging U.S. state.
Hawaii, unlike Fiji and some other islands that imported large groups of laborers, allowed its immigrants to vote and to own land. The Chinese soon began leaving the fields and opening businesses in and around Honolulu, a fact that created a need for a new labor source. This time the missionary families who owned the fields turned toward Japan - and during the 1920's a large influx of Japanese immigrants began arriving in the islands. While the Chinese turned their attention to business success, the Japanese proved to be more interested in worker rights and organizing. Both groups, the Chinese and the Japanese, recognized the ultimate power of education, and both groups were relentless in their pursuit of educational opportunities for their children.
Michener pointed out the discrepancy with which the white master class in Hawaii - the descendants of the missionaries - treated immigrants versus the way they treated the native Polynesians. Immigrants were given opportunities for advancement through education and the right to own property and vote. The native population, however, were treated more like incompetents who were incapable of managing their own lives and whose interests needed to be managed by the whites. Consequently as the native Polynesians began to disappear through the ravages of disease and inter-marriage, the Oriental immigrants were establishing a permanent presence in the social and economic aspects of the islands.
World War II and particularly the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor was a major focus of the latter portion of this book. Michener examined the stresses that the bombing and constant fear of an invasion by Japan placed on the islands and their residents, particularly the Japanese. Many of the young Japanese of military service age had been born in Hawaii and considered themselves to be Americans. While many of the islands' Japanese were initially rounded up and detained, a lot of prominent local whites went to the jails and detention centers and managed to vouch for a good number of them who were then released.
A lot of the young Japanese men joined all-Japanese military units, led by whites, and were sent to Europe to fight. They proved to be some of the bravest and fiercest soldiers involved in the Second World War. Michener's epic tale focused on four of these young men, brothers, who fought in the same unit in Europe. One was killed in Italy, one died in France, and the other two survived to become important members of the emerging post-war social order in Hawaii - one as a labor leader, and the other as a Harvard-educated lawyer who became a formidable politician.
The characters introduced in each of the various migrations to Hawaii drift across the pages and interact with one another, weaving a compelling story as well as a broad history of the islands. Readers are taken from sailing across the ocean under the tranquility of a starry night in an outrigger canoe to riding in a cramped ship while the passengers constantly vomit over the sides of the ship and deal with intestinal maladies. At one point readers are basking under the swaying palms of Lashaina on Maui, and a few pages later they cringing in horror as rapists roam the beach at the leper colony on Molokai looking for victims. Michener's characters are very human, and they tell a compelling tale.
James Michener was an avid student of history with an in-depth knowledge of the South Pacific, and his first novel, in fact, Tales of the South Pacific, won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. He went on to write more that three dozen other novels, each a comprehensive examination of the human story and experience. His works are engrossing - and none more so than Hawaii.
I feel much better prepared for my upcoming trip after having read it.
I learned a great deal from HAWAII, as I have from Michener's other place novels, and I hope that the details will check out when and if I research them. Those I have checked from other books have held true enough for my purposes.
As a guy who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, I found HAWAII fascinating, since it provided a prelude to the great event of statehood. It also, and perhaps more importantly, developed an atmosphere that I hope still exists in the place, despite the commercialization of the area.
In summary, HAWAII remains a book worth reading.
It wouldn't be fair to say that my friend was wrong. I am still plowing my way through Michener's typical deep word forest and I an "enjoying" it. I'd enjoy it much more if it had been edited down by 50% or more.
But that's Michener. Two hundred words where ten would do..
I was also annoyed by the religious tone that seemed dismissive of other religions but praised Judaism. Another reviewer here commented on the same thing. I suppose it is inevitable; a Christian will be favorable toward Judeo-Christian beliefs and culture. I still found it annoying and prejudiced.