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On Scott's recommendation I read Michener's novel Hawaii last year and loved it. Michener's M.O. was to pick a geographic era and follow it and its inhabitants through history. In Hawaii this takes place over a thousand years, starting with the original explorers from Bora-Bora ad moving up to missionaries, Chinese, and Japanese inhabitants. Chesapeake follows a smaller time frame, starting in the 1500s with the Choptank Indians and detailing European explorers, the birth of America, the Civil War, the world wars, and ending in the late seventies with the civil rights movements.

Sadly I didn't like it as well as his earlier effort. It all felt too rushed, as if Michener was primarily interested in antebellum Maryland. We get four hundred pages about Indians, pirates, Quakers, and slaves, but then we hit the Civil War and cover it in four pages. Um, huh? And World War II in about two pages. And while Michener was dedicated to equality of all races, he really didn't seem to know what he was doing with the black characters in the latter part of the twentieth century. There's a token race riot that feels excessively forced (and it gets a whole chapter!) but there's never a feeling that it means anything to anyone in the book let alone to the writer. Maybe this conveys the whole screwiness of the time (I don't know, I wasn't there).

At any rate I was unimpressed and never found anyone particularly interesting. How you can have that much drama and still be bland (they cut off Blackbeard's frigging head! masters and slaves had affairs!) I'm not sure.

The one thing I do think was interesting as an effort if not in coveyance was Michener's approach to the environment. An omnipresent pattern is the migration of the geese that are hunted. This is somewhat dented in imrpessiveness when Michener names a goose family and takes their point of view. That's right, we have a chapter devoted to Ook the goose and his family. I get that it's the circle of life but it's a dinner bird and that's all, okay? But throughout the time periods he has characters note the effects on the environment, particularly with regards to erosion, but also to weather patterns and even, in the twentieth century, litter.

At any rate the premise was neat but the execution lacked. I could've done with more about Baltimore, D.C., Annapolis, etc. They're all about 40 miles from each other and together have some major history going on.

Final opinion: leave the Quakers and take the cannoli.


( 4 comments — Add your .02 )
Jan. 14th, 2006 08:35 pm (UTC)
Off topic, I really hope that you can make it out to the club on Sunday. It would be nice to see you and I still have your books! :)

Jan. 14th, 2006 09:01 pm (UTC)
Aw thanks but after this hellweek I am just way too tired. :/ That said would you guys wanna stop by my place for an early supper or something--I'm on Connecticut Ave. and looking at the map about a mile or so from the club.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 15th, 2006 04:19 pm (UTC)
Really? I read in an interview with him once that he would just do years of research on a topic. Who knows!
( 4 comments — Add your .02 )

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