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Honolulu by Alan Brennert
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Honolulu

by Alan Brennert

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Having read Molokai and loving it, I looked forward to Brennert's next novel and was not disappointed. Shorter with fewer "ups and downs" than Molokai, this was still a wonderful story of an interesting life of a "picture bride" from Korea and her new life in Hawaii. I find the characters in the story to be very believable and likable in spite of human foibles. I also found the historical look at the development of Honolulu and Hawaii extremely interesting. Brennert does know how to create memorable characters. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 17, 2013 |
I thought that this was a wonderful book. A great story with a wonderful plot and lovable characters. I liked how this paralleled the differences between the Korean culture and the Hawaiian culture as well. I also learned more about the Korean "picture brides" than I knew before. It was wonderful how this women struggled such deception and in Jin's case, abuse, and they were still able to rise above it, and make their own may as successful buisness women in American. I also liked how they did not give up completely on their Korean heritage but were able to take the good parts of it and combine it with their new culture. Perhaps, a little far-fetched, that many of the characters all end up happy, but I am a sucker for a happy ending. ( )
  AdriaFaye | Jul 18, 2013 |
While I didn't enjoy this book quite as much as I enjoyed "Molokai," I would recommend it to anyone interested in Hawaii's history, or who is simply seeking a good, readable piece of fiction. Brennert does an excellent job of bringing his characters to life and the story and circumstances that are the framework for the story, are interesting enough to keep the reader involved. There is perhaps a shade too much digression into background narrative on the historical aspects of the era in which the story is placed; not enough to be tedious, but enough to be a bit distracting. ( )
  turtlesleap | Jun 18, 2013 |
To begin, I'll echo part of Linda's review: "Through it all, what struck me most was the kindness that the characters exhibited and the generosity they showed. The relationships between Jin and the other picture brides were quite touching. Honolulu is not a long book, yet I'm amazed at how much story is contained in its 350 pages. It covered a very long period of time and so many things happened, yet it never felt rushed."

Honolulu is the story of Regret, born in a small Korean town. She desires an education, which is denied her, but she learns to read and write in secret. Then she takes fate into her own hands and arranges to be a "picture bride," sailing to Hawaii with other Korean girls. When they arrive, they realize they were deceived: the men are much older and poorer than their pictures led the girls to believe. Regret - who eventually renames herself Jin (Gem) - makes the best of her situation, extricating herself from her marriage when her husband's abuse becomes too much. Though Hawaii is not the paradise she was led to expect, it is still not as restrictive for women as Korea, and, with the help of (mostly female, though not all Korean) friends, Jin achieves happiness and success in her new life. Overall, Jin's story was much more uplifting than I had expected; she experiences a variety of hardships, but with support from friends, she perseveres and prevails.

This book brought to mind the only other book I've read about Hawaii, Sarah Vowell's excellent nonfiction work, Unfamiliar Fishes. I highly recommend both.

Quotes:

"I just gotta get the hell out of paradise." (May Thompson, 175)

"I understand, truly, that the life of a Korean woman is often, as in the old adage, like that of the frog living at the bottom of a well, who believes the whole world is wet and cold and made of stone. You know better now, but....Only one frog in each family may leap to freedom." (Joyful Day to Jin, 187)

...Jae-sun stared in stupefaction at the salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots the waiter placed before him. "Did they neglect to cook this?" he asked me in a low voice. "Should I send it back?"
"No, I believe it's customary to eat vegetables raw."
He blanched. "Straight out of the ground?" I nodded. "God have mercy on their souls," he said, refusing to touch the salad. (210)

Grace, now three years old, seemed to find the appearance of this tiny infant in our home somewhat unsettling. "Why is he so small?" she wanted to know.
"He hasn't had time to grow, like you have," I told her.
She looked at him suspiciously and asked, "When will he be finished?" (212)

If time was a river, Pojogae seemed to be a sandbar around which the currents of years swirled past, but never fully engulfed....Perhaps I had floated downriver into my own past. (Jin's visit back to Korea, 331) ( )
  JennyArch | Apr 3, 2013 |
A heart warming story of a woman who, through hard work, "grit" and friends, makes a new life for herself in Hawaii. As a woman in Korea, "Regret" had little hope for a life other than a future practically cloistered behind the walls of her father's - and then husband's - home. So she became a picture bride, traveling to a stranger in Hawaii. The author effortlessly weaves fiction with the history of early 20th century Hawaii, making it a fascinating read. In some ways I was reminded of Michener's Hawaii. I found the story slow in a few places. ( )
  TerriBooks | Mar 8, 2013 |
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"Honolulu" is the richly imagined story of Jin, a young "picture bride" who leaves her native Korea, and journeys to Hawaii in 1914 in search of a better life.

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