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Honolulu: A Novel Paperback – February 2, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Brennert's mostly successful follow-up to his book club phenomenon, Moloka'i, chronicles the lives of Asian immigrants in and around Hawaii's early 20th-century glamour days. As the tale begins, readers meet young Regret, whose name speaks volumes of her value in turn-of-the-20th-century Korea. Emboldened by her desire to be educated, Regret commits herself as a mail-order bride to a prosperous man in Hawaii, where girls are allowed to attend school. But when she arrives, she finds her new husband is a callous plantation worker with drinking and gambling problems. Soon, Regret (now known as Jin) and her fellow picture brides must discover their own ways to prosper in America and find that camaraderie and faith in themselves goes a long way. Brennert takes perhaps too much care in creating an encyclopedic portrait of Hawaii in the early 1900s, festooning the central narrative with trivia and cultural minutiae by the boatload. Luckily, Jin's story should be strong enough to pull readers through the clutter. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Virtually the only way for a young girl such as Jin to escape the poverty, isolation, and desperation of Korea in the early twentieth century was to advertise herself as a “picture bride,” eagerly available for marriage to a presumably young, honorable fellow countryman who had already fled to the burgeoning island paradise of Hawaii. Possessed of an insatiable desire for education and an innocent sense of adventure, Jin accepts Noh’s offer, only to realize that she’s traded one form of oppression for another when she suffers physical attacks from an alcoholic husband and the psychological abuse of a chauvinistic society. Spanning more than four decades, Jin’s plaintive yet intrepid tale of spirited courage and staunch resolve is as audacious as that of the vibrant island nation whose own polyglot heritage becomes increasingly endangered as it transitions from U.S. territory to fiftieth state. Brennert’s lush tale of ambition, sacrifice, and survival is immense in its dramatic scope yet intimate in its emotive detail. --Carol Haggas --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Although the author in his notes talks about "the glamour days of the 1920-1930's", we are not treated to clipper ships, elegant cruise liners,or vacationing celebrities. We are ensconsed in the tenements of the fields of pineapple plantations and in canneries, where our protagonist struggles to find a life with an abusive husband. This is the story of the seemier side of Hawaii, the struggle for survival, and the unrest between ethnic groups - the Korean, Japanese, Chinese, the white elite, and the naval personnel - during a period of growth, depression, and eventually, war. Unfortunately, the novel does not cover anything of the impact of World War II. I kept waiting for that, and was disappointed.
All in all, though, as one who has only been exposed to the high-rises, the beaches, and tourist attractions, this story, which is based largely in reality and truth, is an eye-opener. Having read Hawaii by Michener, which dealt with the missionaries who went to work on the native Hawaiians in the very early days, this book was a good follow-up.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and for me, it was a page-turner. The ending wrapped up a bit too neatly (and prosperously), but I'll never turn down a happy conclusion to a story. I did wince however, when Jin, our protagonist named "Regret" in Korea, said, as the last line in the book that she had no "regrets"! Ouch.
The book begins in Korea, where girls have very little value. This is made abundantly clear when her parents name our protagonist Regret. Wishing to better her life and get an education, Regret becomes a "picture bride". In exchange for passage to Hawaii she agrees to marry a young Korean named Noh. Unfortunately when Regret gets to the promised land she learns she has been duped into marrying an older man, an alcoholic with a severe gambling habit and an inclination to take his anger out on his wife with his fists. Regret, now called Jin, has been taught her whole life to be subservient to men; eventually she gets the courage to run away and try to make a better life for herself.
When Jin relocates to the other side of the island she reconnects with a few other picture brides she met on her trip over from Korea. With the help of these friends, plus her own will and determination Jin begins to carve out a new life. Over the course of 40 years we follow Jin and her friends ups and downs. Brennert peppers the narrative with real life historical figures and introduces us to a land that is little more than a ramshackle town, segregated into the haves: sugar and pineapple plantation owners and the have-nots: the laborers that made them rich.
I enjoyed following Jin's journey from unwanted and unloved Regret to a life filled with many joys and sorrows, a woman who never gives up her dreams of a better life.
Although I appreciated all the research that went in the book, there was sometime a feeling of overload. In addition I found the fact that Jin was constantly meeting and befriending all of the famous personage's on the island highly unlikely. For these two reasons I dropped my rating a little; nevertheless I do recommend the book, it was a worthwhile read.