Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Honolulu by Alan Brennert

Regret is a Korean girl so named to reflect her parents' disappointment that she was not born a boy. She is also not a child who is eager to submit to the life that has been mapped out for her choosing instead to sign on as a picture bride in Hawaii, a place where girls can attend school. Embarking on a ship with other picture brides, Regret, renamed Jin, quickly realizes that she has exchanged one drudgery-filled existence for another with an abusive, alcoholic gambler of a husband.

This tale of Asian immigrants and Hawaiian history is epic in scope. The story sweeps from pineapple plantations to the city of Honolulu in all its grandeur and debauchery in the early and middle years of the twentieth century. There are prostitutes, the detective who inspired the character Charlie Chan, the origins of the Hawaiian shirt, and so much more. And Jin's entirely possible story is woven throughout these historical events as she participates in the events and meets the people involved. The book is peopled with colorful characters but it still takes on difficult topics like discrimination and abuse. Jin is a strong and vibrant character who learns to direct her own life, celebrating the good and enduring the bad.

I enjoyed this one but wasn't wowed by it. In some ways it was a bit stereotypical. I appreciated the history woven into it but the weaving was perhaps not as skillfull and seamless as it could have been or perhaps there was just a little too much of it. The plot galloped along (a good thing when a book is a bit of a chunkster as this one is) and I liked the characters well enough. Those people enchanted by the setting in Hawaii or the exotic idea, and decidedly un-exotic reality, of picture brides will enjoy the storytelling here.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. I liked this one too, but Molakai was even better IMO. Great review Kristen

  2. The historical aspect of the novel is a definite appeal. Sounds like an interesting read.

  3. I read Molokai, which has an intrinsically dramatic story behind it, and wondered if I'd like this one. Sounds like what I call a car book--mildly entertaining, but I could leave it in the car for the next time I'm waiting for a kid.

  4. I just read Moloka'i, which I absolutely loved, so I really want to read this one. I have heard that this one isn't too great, but I think I'll still give it a try and be prepared.


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