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Honolulu: A Novel Paperback – February 2, 2010
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“A sweeping, meticulously researched saga that sees it plucky heroine, a mistreated but independent-minded Korean mail-order bride, through the highs and lows of life in twentieth-century Hawai'i, this book extends our readers' tradition of favoring lush, flavorful historical novels.” ―Elle
“A well-researched and deftly written tale….For sheer readability, it's a hit…. Brennert has a good eye for places we can't see anymore: plantation life before the unions gained power; Chinatown when it was all tenements; Waikiki before the high-rises started going up. And it's clear he has real affection for the little people and places he so vividly brings to life. He's not just using historic Honolulu as a place to set a novel; he's bringing it to life for people who haven't had the chance to imagine it before.” ―Honolulu Star-Bulletin
“To its core, Honolulu is meticulously researched….Brennert portrays the Aloha State's history as complicated and dynamic―not simply a melting pot, but a Hawaiian-style ‘mixed plate’ in which, as Jin sagely notes, ‘many different tastes share the plate, but none of them loses its individual flavor, and together they make up a uniquely “local” cuisine.” ―The Washington Post
“Successful historical fiction doesn't just take a story and doll it up with period detail. It plunges readers into a different world and defines the historical and cultural pressures the characters face in that particular time and place. That's what Los Angeles writer Alan Brennert did in his previous novel, Moloka'i, the story of diseased Hawaiians exiled in their own land. He has done it again in "Honolulu," which focuses on the Asian immigrant experience in Hawaii, specifically that of Korean picture brides….This is a moving, multilayered epic by a master of historical fiction, in which one immigrant's journey helps us understand our nation's "becoming.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“[A] sweeping, epic novel….Brennert weaves the true stories of early Hawaii into his fictional tale, and many of the captivating people Jin encounters are real. His depiction of the effects of the Depression is startling. Let's hope Brennert follows up this second novel with a third and continues to capture this intriguing and little-explored segment of American history in beautifully told stories.” ―Library Journal (starred review)
“[A] poignant, colorful story.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Brennert's lush tale of ambition, sacrifice, and survival is immense in its dramatic scope yet intimate in its emotive detail.” ―Booklist
“Intriguing….Honolulu offers endless insights into a culture many readers may never have encountered, and Brennert further enlivens his tale by dropping in historical figures, some fictional, such as Charlie Chan, and some real, such as Clarence Darrow. But it is Korea that's the real focus of this story, and readers get a sympathetic feel for the daily humiliations the native population suffered from the Japanese who conquered the country….[Brennert's] smooth narrative style makes the book a pleasure to read.” ―Roanoke Times
“With skill, historic accuracy and sensitivity and a clear passion for the people and places in Hawaii, Brennert weaves a story that will move and inspire readers.” ―The Oklahoman
“In this dazzling rich, historical story, a young ‘picture bride' travels to Hawaii in 1914 in search of a better life….This intriguing novel is a fascinating literary snapshot of Hawaii during the early years of the last century. The story is compelling, poignant and powerful.” ―Tucson Citizen
About the Author
ALAN BRENNERT is the author of Moloka'i, which was a 2006-2007 BookSense Reading Group Pick and won the 2006 Bookies Award, sponsored by the Contra Costa Library, for the Book Club Book of the Year (over My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult; The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson; and A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey). It appeared on the BookSense, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Honolulu Advertiser, and (for 16 weeks) NCIBA bestseller lists. Alan has also won an Emmy Award for his work as a writer-producer on the television series L.A. Law and a Nebula Award for his story "MaQui." He lives in Sherman Oaks, California.
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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.