Unfamiliar Fishes

Sarah Vowell, Unfamiliar Fishes (New York: Riverhead, 2011)

Vowell - Unfamiliar Fishes
Once again Sarah Vowell has produced a book about our history that tells the story more honestly than our typical telling and at the same time gets us to laugh at ourselves. Like The Wordy Pilgrims, Unfamiliar Fishes tells a story in which our Congregational forebears played a prominent role and caused more than a small amount of suffering because of cultural ignorance and an insistence that others should have the life we had whether or not they wanted such a life.

Hawaii was the destination of he first overseas missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the predecessor body of our modern Common Global Ministries. The first missionaries arrived from New England in 1820 with the goal of bringing Christianity to Hawaii. What they didn’t realize was how much they had confused the culture of New England with the essence of Christianity.

Vowell’s style of reporting gets us to take a fresh and much-needed look at our history. The way we have been telling the story has often been one-sided. Vowell brings fresh and much-needed perspective.

And, like the smart aleck that she is, she gets us to laugh while she teaches us a lesson.