Filled with natural beauty, the islands of Hawaii are a true paradise. With volcanic landscapes, picturesque beaches and a relaxed way of life, these books set in Hawaii capture both the spirit and the often overlooked history of the islands. 🌴
There is no shortage of books set in Hawaii. For my visit, I started with the heartbreaking Moloka’i and enjoyed it so much I followed it up with another book from the same author; the sprawling Honolulu. After that I devoured the Descendants and immediately watched the film adaptation starring George Clooney.
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Where To Read In Hawaii
My trip took me to Big Island, Kauai and O’ahu. I loved reading in the hammock at our incredible AirBNB in Haleiwa (seriously, a dream) and on the pastel beach at sunrise watching the surfers tackle the notorious Banzai Pipeline. Another favorite find was in Hanalei, at the tiki-themed Tahiti Nui. It’s a bustling place that is famous for mai tais and was also one of the filming locations for the Descendants and brought the story to real life for me. 🍹
Books Set In Hawaii
by Alan Brennert, 2004
Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end – but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.
by Alan Brennert, 2009
Honolulu is the richly imagined story of Jin, a young ‘picture bride’ who leaves her native Korea – where girls are so little valued that she is known as Regret – and journeys to Hawaii in 1914 in search of a better life. Instead of the prosperous young husband and the chance at an education she has been promised, Jin is quickly married off to a poor, embittered laborer who takes his disappointments out on his new wife, forcing her to make her own way in a strange land.
by Kaui Hart Hemmings, 2007
Fortunes have changed for the King family, descendants of Hawaiian royalty and one of the state’s largest landowners. Matthew King’s daughters – Scottie, a feisty ten-year-old, and Alex, a seventeen-year-old recovering drug addict – are out of control, and their charismatic, thrill-seeking mother, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident. She will soon be taken off life support. As Matt gathers his wife’s friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation is made worse by the sudden discovery that there’s one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair.
by David Lodge, 1991
Bernard Walsh, agnostic theologian, has a professional interest in heaven. But when he travels to Hawaii with his reluctant father Jack, to visit Jack’s dying, estranged sister it feels more like purgatory than paradise.
Surrounded by quarrelling honeymooners, a freeloading anthropologist and assorted tourists in search of their own personal paradise, and with his father whisked off to hospital after an unfortunate accident, Bernard is beginning to regret ever coming to Haiwaii. Until, that is, he stumbles on something he had given up hope of finding: the astonishing possibility of love.
East Wind, Rain
by Caroline Paul, 2006
December 1941. The inhabitants of Niihau lead a simple life. Mostly Hawaiian natives, they work the ranch of Niihau’s eccentric haole owner, who keeps his island totally isolated from the outside world, devoid of cars, phones, and electricity. But then a plane crash-lands there, and although the villagers rescue the pilot, they have no idea that he has just attacked Pearl Harbor. War has now come to Eden, slowly undoing its tranquillity, widening the cracks in the already troubled marriage of Irene and Yoshio Harada, the island’s only Japanese-American couple. It will test everyone’s loyalties and all they believe in… as Paradise, once within reach, slowly falls victim to its own isolated innocence.
He Mele A Hilo (A Hilo Song)
by Ryka Aoki, 2014
Something strange is happening in Hilo. Noleani Choi’s new show about the life of Jesus Christ told through hula dance has everyone, especially her halau, wondering what she could possibly be thinking. Rumors circulate about a rich guy from the mainland, and the dancers and their friends must reckon with what is really hula, who is Hawaiian enough, and why each of them wants to dance.
On one beautiful island, we discover that loving other people in spite of their flaws might just begin with being true to our own selves.
Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers
by Lois-Ann Yamanaka, 1996
Growing up in Hilo, Hawaii, in a family caught in the cultural gap between East and West, young Lovey Nariyoshi creates her own identity amid a world of pop culture and media that ignores the realities of the Japanese-American character.
Hawaii: A Novel
by James A. Michener, 1959
James A. Michener brings Hawaii’s epic history vividly to life in a classic saga that has captivated readers since its initial publication in 1959. As the volcanic Hawaiian Islands sprout from the ocean floor, the land remains untouched for centuries—until, little more than a thousand years ago, Polynesian seafarers make the perilous journey across the Pacific, flourishing in this tropical paradise according to their ancient traditions. Then, in the early nineteenth century, American missionaries arrive, bringing with them a new creed and a new way of life. Based on exhaustive research and told in Michener’s immersive prose, Hawaii is the story of disparate peoples struggling to keep their identity, live in harmony, and, ultimately, join together.
By Joan Didion, 1995
Inez Victor knows that the major casualty of the political life is memory. But the people around Inez have made careers out of losing track. And, in 1975, the year in which much of this bitterly funny novel is set, America is doing its best to lose track of its one-time client, the lethally hemorrhaging republic of South Vietnam. As conceived by Joan Didion, these personages and events constitute the terminal fallout of democracy, a fallout that also includes fact-finding junkets, senatorial groupies, the international arms market, and the Orwellian newspeak of the political class. Moving deftly from Honolulu to Jakarta, between romance, farce, and tragedy, Democracy is a tour de force from a writer who can dissect an entire society with a single phrase.
From Here to Eternity
by James Jones, 1951
Diamond Head, Hawaii, 1941. Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt is a champion welterweight and a fine bugler. But when he refuses to join the company’s boxing team, he gets “the treatment” that may break him or kill him. First Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden knows how to soldier better than almost anyone, yet he’s risking his career to have an affair with the commanding officer’s wife.
Still Life with Woodpecker
by Tom Robbins, 1980
Still Life with Woodpecker is a sort of a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes. It reveals the purpose of the moon, explains the difference between criminals and outlaws, examines the conflict between social activism and romantic individualism, and paints a portrait of contemporary society that includes powerful Arabs, exiled royalty, and pregnant cheerleaders. It also deals with the problem of redheads.
The Winds of War
by Herman Wouk, 1971
Wouk’s spellbinding narrative captures the tide of global events, as well as all the drama, romance, heroism, and tragedy of World War II, as it immerses us in the lives of a single American family drawn into the very center of the war’s maelstrom. The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance stand as the crowning achievement of one of America’s most celebrated storytellers.
Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen
by Liliuokalani, 1898
In 1893, Liliuokalani, the Queen of Hawaii, was deposed and five years later her nation became an incorporated territory of the United States. Published shortly after these momentous events, her book Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen is an incredibly personal history of the islands that she was born to rule. Liliuokalani covers from her birth in 1838 through the reigns of her forebears to her own turbulent time as Queen of the Hawaiian Islands.
Song of the Exile
by Kiana Davenport, 1999
In this epic, original novel in which Hawaii’s fierce, sweeping past springs to life, Kiana Davenport, author of the acclaimed Shark Dialogues, draws upon the remarkable stories of her people to create a timeless, passionate tale of love and survival, tragedy and triumph, survival and transcendence. In spellbinding, sensual prose, Song of the Exile follows the fortunes of the Meahuna family–and the odyssey of one resilient man searching for his soul mate after she is torn from his side by the forces of war. From the turbulent years of World War II through Hawaii’s complex journey to statehood, this mesmerizing story presents a cast of richly imagined characters who rise up magnificent and forceful, redeemed by the spiritual power and the awesome beauty of their islands.
by Susanna Moore, 1993
Like her much-acclaimed previous novels, Susanna Moore’s Sleeping Beauties is set in Hawaii, whose shimmering beauty and melancholy traditions are both seductive and dangerously hard to leave. Or so they prove for Clio, who marries a well-known Hollywood actor – providing her with the promise of escape from the entanglements of island life.
by Sarah Vowell, 2011
Many think of 1776 as the defining year of American history, when 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 defining, when, in an orgy of imperialism, the United States annexed Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam, and invaded first Cuba, then the Philippines, becoming an international superpower practically overnight.
Among the developments in these outposts of 1898, Vowell considers the Americanization of Hawaii the most intriguing.
The House Without a Key
by Earl Derr Biggers, 1925
This is the classic novel in which Charlie Chan makes his debut as Inspector of the Honolulu Police Department. Earl Derr Biggers brings Honolulu to life with deft descriptions of the landscape and of its hybrid ethnic communities. With the creation of Detective Chan, Biggers also shatters stereotypes and is ahead of his time in highlighting the positive aspects of Chinese-Hawaiian culture, just as his skillful rendering of San Francisco is noteworthy of its modernity and keen sense of place.
Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
by Barack Obama, 1995
Nine years before the Senate campaign that made him one of the most influential and compelling voices in American politics, Barack Obama published this lyrical, unsentimental, and powerfully affecting memoir, which became a #1 New York Times bestseller when it was reissued in 2004. Dreams from My Father tells the story of Obama’s struggle to understand the forces that shaped him as the son of a black African father and white American mother—a struggle that takes him from the American heartland to the ancestral home of his great-aunt in the tiny African village of Alego.
Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure
by Julia Flynn Siler, 2011
Around 200 A.D., intrepid Polynesians arrived at an undisturbed archipelago. For centuries, their descendants lived with little contact from the western world. In 1778, their isolation was shattered with the arrival of Captain Cook.
Deftly weaving together a memorable cast of characters, Lost Kingdom brings to life the ensuing clash between a vulnerable Polynesian people and relentlessly expanding capitalist powers. Portraits of royalty and rogues, sugar barons, and missionaries combine into a sweeping tale of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s rise and fall.
By David Mitchell, 2004
Cloud Atlas begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite. Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter. From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life. And onward, with dazzling virtuosity, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a post-apocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history.
What do you think of these books set in Hawaii?
Have a great book recommendation I’ve missed? I’d love to hear about more books set in Hawaii in the comments below!