Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

Honolulu by Alan Brennert

Post Reply
User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 9581
Joined: August 2008
Location: Seattle, WA

Honolulu by Alan Brennert

Post by Misfit » Sun February 22nd, 2009, 12:10 am

(3.5) "...together they make up a uniquely 'local' cuisine"...and thus the author describes the cultural melting pot that is Hawaii. Wanting more out of life than what Korea can offer a young woman, Jin signs on as a "picture bride" (a sort of mail order bride) and sails off to Hawaii with several other young women - although they are in for quite a surprise at what is waiting for them at the docks - the pictures of the grooms are not all they were expecting from the photos. Jin thinks she gets the best of the lot as at least her husband is not as old as the others, but he turns out to be a poor laborer on a local plantation with a fondness for alcohol. After a brutal beating causing a miscarriage Jin leaves her husband for a new life in the growing town of Honolulu, and finds herself befriended by hooker May Thompson.

Jin's fortunes eventually lead her into new friendships, along with renewing the old ones of the "picture brides" she traveled with from Korea, as the young territory faces growing pains and the prejudices of a diverse population from many nations which finally culminates in several sensational incidents that bring the "locals" head to head with the upper class haoles.

Brennert has a good feel for the period and the cultures of the period, along with the local customs, foods and dialects. He also did a nice job interweaving the story of Jin and her friends and family into the local history and characters of the day, but in the end I found her story to be just a tad bit slow paced, as well as Jin being just a bit too much like a 21C female, rather than one born into the more subservient society of Korea in the early 20C. This was a good book, just not a great one. 3.5/5 stars.

User avatar
LCW
Compulsive Reader
Posts: 756
Joined: August 2008
Location: Southern California

Post by LCW » Sun February 22nd, 2009, 4:07 pm

I have this one to read. I loved his novel about the leper colony on Molokai so I'm interested to see how I like this one.
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them. --Arnold Lobel

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 9581
Joined: August 2008
Location: Seattle, WA

Post by Misfit » Sun February 22nd, 2009, 6:47 pm

I've heard good things about Molokai, but still haven't got it from the library yet. It was funny after finishing this and thinking back on what a melting pot it is, as well as the three years I spent there in grade school and how habits I picked up there I still have to this day. Wear shoes in the house? I don't think so.

User avatar
Telynor
Bibliophile
Posts: 1465
Joined: August 2008
Location: On the Banks of the Hudson

Telynor's take on Honolulu by Alan Brennert

Post by Telynor » Thu April 22nd, 2010, 11:51 pm

For about seven or so years now, I have been fascinated by Korean culture and history. So if a novel involves something Korean, it's a good bet that I am at least going to give it a try, which is why I picked up Alan Brennert's novel, Honolulu, his second novel after Moloka'i, which had received some rave reviews.

Told in first person, Regret of the Pak clan, a daughter in a household of four sons, knows that she is the family disappointment. While she is happy fulfilling the duties of a future wife and mother, especially the time spent sewing with her mother, Regret wants something more. What it is, she is not at all certain, but when she finds a scrap of paper one day, she knows in her child's heart that she wants to read for herself -- something that her father disapproves of. She does get an older brother to translate the scrap, which turns out to be a poem written by a woman on a journey.

Regret also finds a teacher -- a scandalous person, to be certain, but the entertainer Evening Rose is more than willing to take Regret on as a student. Regret is an enthusiastic student, but when her father finds out, tragedy ensues for Regret and Evening Rose. Indeed, soon afterwards, Evening Rose vanishes, taken away by the Japanese, who are 'occupying' Korea as one of their territories, and subjecting the population to terrible privations.

Soon afterwards, Regret is mourning her loss and trying to teach her young sister-in-law, Blossom, how to read to console herself. Blossom is much younger, and the two girls adore one another, but Blossom also misses her family terribly, and yearns in a way that Regret can see in herself. As she nears adulthood, Regret decides on drastic measure for herself, one that will involve making a move that may loose her own family forever, but give her a chance to capture her dreams.

She decides on becoming a 'picture-bride,' what would be called a 'mail-order' bride in America. The matchmaker arranges for passage to Hawai'i where there are many Korean men, but not many women for them to marry. Regret changes her name to Jin, that is, 'Gem,' and looks over the photos of prospective suitors, and is rather pleased when one of the men says that he will take her. During the voyage to Hawai'i, she meets other young women who are making the same trip to marry men that they have only seen in a photograph. Wise Pearl, Sunny -- a childhood friend of Jin's -- Beauty, and Jade Moon all form ties with each other, and promise to stay in touch with each other, spending the trip comparing their fiancés and the splendid futures that they will have with these successful men.

But as with all things that look too good to be true, the reality is a bit different. For one, Jin's husband, Mr. Noh, isn't as young or prosperous as his picture appears. He is a labourer at a sugar plantation, and Jin, uncertain and more than a little apprehensive marries him at the dock. Indeed, all of the girls do, except for Sunny, who refuses and flees back to Korea at the sight of her less-than-appealing husband-to-be. On the plantation, life is wretched, and Mr. Noh is a man who takes out his frustrations and anger at Jin, especially when he starts to gamble and drink away his wages, forcing Jin to work in the sugar fields to eke out some sort of living for them both.

When the happy dream turns into a nightmare, Jin runs away to Honolulu. But will her life be any better there?

I found this to be a fascinating novel to read, and full of little details and bits of history about both Korea and Hawai'ian life. Intertwined with Jin's story, we see the lives of both the natives and the foreigners, gradually blending in together. But there is some ugly parts as well, especially the racism by the whites towards anyone Polynesian or Asian. It's something that most of us don't want to think about, but what we would consider abhorrent today was expected and normal behaviour then, and it simply made me sick at heart to read about it.

However, Brennert's characters are fascinating to read about, especially Joseph Kahahawai, May Thompson, and Chang Apana. Even May's cat, Little Bastard, is a lively personage in his own right. On a more personal level, I found Jin to be a woman who held herself to a strict code, and worked hard to make a future for herself, while never giving up on her own happiness, and the promise that she made to Blossom.

What finally swung this book into a positive note for me was the use of history and language in this story. Alan Brennert's writing style may be a bit simplistic in places, and while I did get annoyed at times at the fact that Jin is there during some pretty pivotal parts of Hawai'ian history -- far too many coincidences for my taste -- I was fascinated by the real stories that he used for the novel. Central to most of them was the notorious Massie case, the accusation and trial of a young Hawai'ian man of raping a US naval officer's wife, and the wave of anger and retaliation that followed. Do resist the temptation to read the author's note at the end of the book until you've finished the narrative.

Another touch that I liked very much was that the author gives in that note some extensive sources and hints as to where to look for more information. I intend to find quite a few of these titles for myself in the near future.

This book gets a solid four stars from me and a recommendation if you are interested in the stories about immigrants in America, and especially Hawai'i.


Honolulu
Alan Brennert
2009; St. Martin's Press
ISBN 978-0-312-56040-5

Post Reply

Return to “By Author's Last Name A-F”