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Gaellen Quinn, The Last Aloha

June 27, 2011

If you look up my book, The Imperialist: A Novel of the Hawaiian Revolution, on Amazon.com, just scroll down a bit and you will find a little note reading, “Customers who bought this item also bought…”   What follows is a list of books and authors composing what I like to think of as Mr. Hanson’s neighborhood, and I think it’s time we met the neighbors.

Gaellen Quinn is the author of the award-winning historical novel, The Last Aloha, which dramatizes the events leading to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the annexation of the Islands by the United States.  She was gracious enough to speak with me, (the complete conversation can be heard by clicking the icon, top left) and I was immediately impressed with the depth and breadth of her knowledge of Hawaiian history, culture, and cosmology.  A native of the mainland who has since removed to Molokai, she remains an avid student of all things Hawaiian.

Connected to Hawaiian history through her extended family, she listened to the stories of pre-statehood Hawaii, and her ear for history led her to a deeper study of the Islands.  The Last Aloha is the product of that research—a novel that has as much to say about the enduring spirit of Hawaii as it does of the events of the nineteenth century.  As the author reminded me, “We don’t leave history behind—it travels right along with us—and it is the bedrock on which present events are based.”

Originally envisioned as a story of Princess Ka’iulani, (who was featured in this blog June 11th), she soon realized that it was really Queen Liliuokalani’s story, and her depiction of the deposed Queen is that of a far-sighted, peaceful sovereign, who put the spirit of her people
ahead of her own office.  She was also able to see her own overthrow within the scope of world events—a consequence of the world growing smaller, bringing industrial powers into conflict with indigenous peoples.

Queen Liliuokalani’s spirit, Quinn tells us, continues to guide Hawaiian events.  The independence movement, for instance, has never become violent “because people understand that the Queen would have frowned upon it.”  This is the legacy of the Queen’s; “a new way
of being in the world,” and were her example better known, Quinn believes Liliuokalani would be heralded as a peacemaker in the company of Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“What interests me are the examples of the people who stand up and are different.  And I think Queen Liliuokalani was an extraordinary example of someone who was able to see beyond her time and to understand that the most important things in life are not always accomplished in one lifetime.  And that if she preserved the most important part of the spirit of her people, which is the spirit of Aloha, ages would roll, governments would change, but at least Hawaii would always exist because that spirit would exist.”

“I think my story is really about the struggle to see what values will prevail, and also what happens when we fail to see the beauty in each other.”

On top of that, The Last Aloha is a very good read.

Kurt

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