The Last Aloha
by Gaellen Quinn


West Maui Book Club Discussion Questions

Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Aloha and mahalo for visiting our site!
Any page numbers refer to Paperback edition.


1. How fairly do you feel Quinn’s novel replicates the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom?

2. Why do you think the King and eventual Queen and their kingdom were represented as non-warring? And why would thousands of loyal natives honor them in the street and palace, but they didn’t have a trusted Royal Guard for their defense?

3. Discuss Social Darwinism as it pertains to this novel. Definition: the theory that individuals, groups, and peoples are subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection as plants and animals. Now largely discredited, social Darwinism was advocated by Herbert Spencer and others in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was used to justify political conservatism, imperialism, and racism and to discourage intervention and reform.

4. What effect, if any, did the Hawaiian’s conversion to Christianity have in the overthrow of Kingdom? Consider the passage where the Queen tells the kahuna women that the Bible was her guide when they were willing to sacrifice themselves after talking to a gathering of native people who wanted the Queen to return to the old ways by following the instruction of Hiiaka, from the family of Pele, the volcano goddess? pgs 281-283

5. This novel is listed as Historical Fiction but leans toward Romance with the main character. How was Laura Jennings changed by Hawaii, the loves who courted her, the man who lusted after her, and the one she wanted but could never have?

6. This novel also romances Hawaii, the Queen, and her family with a gentleness of place and character. While lovely prose, might Quinn have misconstrued some realities?

7. Discuss how Hawaiian words contain several meanings. For instance from a Goodreads review by Celeste Noelani McLean, “Malolo” caused her to “alternately roll with laughter and roll my eyes with impatience...” because in Hawaiian “Mālolo” with the kahakō means flying fish as intended in the novel. But, “Malolo” without it means “either to rest or low, as in a tide.”

8. Did it concern you at all that the seventeen-year-old Princess Kaʻiulani, under advisement from her British guardian to “speak out on our behalf,” toured Washington without consent of the Queen? And that she met with President and Mrs. Cleveland who “made it clear he intends to see justice done?”

9. According to Quinn, “one of the little known facts” is that “the Hawaiian Monarchy was overthrown by the Queen’s friends.” See Her commentary focuses on Judge Sanford Dole, but not others, like missionary Henry Baldwin, Atty General William R. Castle, or the Queen’s own copier, Willie Kaae. Discuss their roles and impact.

10. Were you confused by Quinn’s references to the Hawaiian League, the Missionary Party, and the Committee of Safety? Who was who and what was what? From the novel, the Hawaiian League consisted of: Lorrin Thurston; Stephen Price; Mr. McBride; Col. Volney Ashford (and son?) who were also over the Honolulu Rifles--a volunteer militia serving the Hawaiian Kingdom and made up of Portuguese, Germans and Americans; Judge Sanford Dole, Lucian McBride, and others. Pgs. 126-138. The Missionary Party is never spelled out, but the Committee of Safety is numbered at thirteen members of 4 Hawaiian-born by American parents; 3 Hawaiian citizens consisting of: an American, a German, and an Australian; 2 Scotsmen, and 4 other Americans. Pg. 261

     >>Widipedia research tells us the HAWAIIAN LEAGUE was a secret society “Annexation Club” that consisted of a 13-member Committee, originating from the Committee of Nine that ensured the MISSIONARY PARTY was on a separate political-elections ticket. The members were: Joseph B. Atherton, Charles J. Austin, Jonathan Austin, William H. Bailey, William R. Castle, Benjamin F. Dillingham, Sanford B. Dole, Henry F. Glade, William W. Hall, Peter C. Jones, Thomas May, John H. Paty, Lorrin A. Thurston and George N. Willcox. (14 on the list) They also controlled the HONOLULU RIFLES, “some 200 armed local (non-native) men who fought under the enthusiastic annexationist Volney V. Ashford.”

     >>The 13 members of the COMMITTEE OF SAFETY were: Lorrin A. Thurston, William O. Smith, Henry Waterhouse, William C. Wilder, Charles L. Carter, William Richards Castle (Hawaiian subject and Atty General for Kalākaua), Crister Bolte, Henry E. Cooper, John Emmeluth, Theodore F. Lansing, John A. McCandless, Frederick W. McChesney, and Andrew Brown.

     >>Others who helped with the overthrow: Charles L. Carter, Samuel Mills Damon, Sanford B. Dole, Peter C. Jones, and James A. King.

11. The eventual HAWAIIAN LEAGUE’S intent in this novel was to take over the Government building, the Police, and the Palace. Discuss what strategies (including gossip) were used to accomplish its goal.

12. Julie Failla Earhart of armchairinterviews, mentions that the novel jumps seventeen years after the overthrow, making her want “to throw the book across the room.” She adds, “(Quinn) never explains what happens after King Kalakaua’s sister, Lili’uokalanui, is ousted as Queen and the heir apparent, Princess Ka’iulani dies. In that last chapter, it’s apparent that Laura does marry…some guy named Will…completes medical school, and has children. I had gotten to know Laura’s every move and gesture and to have a gap like that was quite disconcerting.” Did you feel the same or did you go back (like I did) to try and find out who Will and their children were, only to never uncover them?

Questions compiled by:
Elaine Gallant
West Maui Book Club
June, 2019