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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 sweeping, epic novel follows Jin from her homeland of Korea to a new life on the blossoming Hawaiian Islands. The year is 1914, and Jin is a "picture bride," a sort of mail-order bride to a Korean man living in Hawaii whom she has never met. Not the wealthy husband she was promised, he is a poor laborer who treats her cruelly. Escaping her abusive husband, Jin must make her way in Honolulu, eventually finding love and stability. But as the growth of Hawaii results in racial tension and violence, Jin and her family struggle to adjust. Seeing life through Jin's eyes is a pleasure as she changes from a farm-bound, repressed immigrant girl to an outgoing, educated member of Hawaiian society. Brennert (Moloka'i) 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. Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ11/15/08.]
PRAISE FOR Honolulu, selected as "One of the Best Books of 2009" by The Washington Post, and winner of Elle’s Lettres 2009 Grand Prix for Fiction
“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
AND ACCLAIM FOR Moloka’i:
"Moloka’i is a big, generous, compassionate, beautifully rendered epic novel about a largely forgotten, largely ignored chapter in Hawaiian and American history. Alan Brennert has written an exquisitely textured tale of darkness and light, tragedy and the triumph of the human spirit, filled with original, fully realized characters who walk right off the page and into our hearts." --Jim Fergus, author of One Thousand White Women
"Brennert evokes the evolution of—and hardships on—Moloka'i in engaging prose that conveys a strong sense of place." --National Geographic Traveler
"Moloka’i is a haunting story of tragedy in a Pacific paradise. The book opens a window on a world of dazzling beauty, and ugly disease and fear, and the courage of a young woman in the Hawai’i of a hundred years ago. It is a story of romance and humanity, and struggles with the pain of isolation, in a place far away in time, yet very close in intimacy, vividness, and exact detail, giving us a sense of community and true kinship across time. It is a story of victory." --Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek
"A moving story...a vivid picture of Hawaii before it became the Touristland it is today."--Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove
"A dazzling historical saga.” --The Washington Post
"Exhaustively researched, Moloka’i transported me to a place I never thought I’d want to go—a nineteenth-century Hawaiian leper colony. But Alan Brennert meticulously paints this world, making it resonate with our own, in which disease is still politicized and made a moral issue. Out of the tragedy of the ostracized and the afflicted, he tells a story of triumph and transcendence."--Karen Essex, author of Kleopatra and Pharaoh
“A poignant story.” --Los Angeles Times
"Alan Brennert draws on historical accounts of Kalaupapa and weaves in traditional Hawaiian stories and customs . . . Moloka'i is the story of people who had much taken from them but also gained an unexpected new family and community in the process." --ChicagoTribune
"Compellingly original…Brennert's compassion makes Rachel a memorable character, and his smooth storytelling vividly brings early twentieth-century Hawai'i to life." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Moving and elegiac." --Honolulu Star-Bulletin
When I was a young child growing up in Korea, it was said that the image of the fading moon at daybreak, reflected in a pond or stream or even a well, resembled the speckled shell of a dragon’s egg. A dragon embodied the yang, the masculine principle of life, and it was thought that if a couple expecting a child prayed to the dragon’s egg, their offspring would be male. Of course, every family in those days desired a son over a daughter. Only men could carry on the family line; women were merely vessels by which to provide society with an uninterrupted supply of men. So every day for months before I was born, my parents would rise before dawn, carrying offerings of fresh-steamed rice cakes to the stone well behind our home, as the sky brightened and snuff ed out the stars. And they would pray to the pale freckled face of the moon floating on the water’s surface, pray that the child growing inside my mother’s womb would be a boy.
In this they were to be disappointed. On the third day of the First Moon in the Year of the Rooster, their first and only daughter was born to them. In those waning days of the Yi Dynasty, newborn girls were not deemed important enough to be graced with formal names, but were instead given nicknames. Often these represented some personal characteristic: Cheerful, Pretty, Little One, Big One. Sometimes they presumed to be commandments: Chastity, or Virtue. A few—Golden Calf, Little Flower— verged on the poetic. But too many names reflected the parents’ feelings about the birth of a daughter. I knew a girl named Anger, and another called Pity. More than a few were known as Sorrow or Sadness. And everyone had heard the story of the father who named his firstborn daughter “One is Okay,” his next, “Perhaps After the Second,” the third, “Three Laughs,” and the last, “Four Shames.”
As for me, my parents named me “Regrettable”—eventually shortened to simply Regret.
Koreans seldom address one another by their given names; we believe a person’s name is a thing of intimacy and power, not to be used casually by anyone but a family member or close friend. When I was very young, Regret was merely a name to me, signifying nothing more than that. But as I grew older and learned it held another meaning, it became a stone weight in my heart. A call to supper became a reminder of my unfortunate presence at the dinner table. A stern rebuke by my father—“Regret, what are we to do with you?”—seemed to hint that my place in the family was impermanent. Too young to understand the real reasons, I wondered what was wrong with me to make me so unwanted. Was I too short? I wasn’t as tall as my friend Sunny, but not nearly so short as her sister Lotus. Was I too plain? I spent hours squinting into the mirror, judging my every feature, and found them wanting. My eyes were set too close together, my nose was too small, or maybe it was too big; my lips were thin, my ears flat. It was clear to see, I was plain and unlovely—no wonder my parents regretted my birth.
In truth, my father was merely old-fashioned and conservative, a strict adherent to Confucian ideals, one of which was the inherent pre ce dence of man over woman: “The wife must regard her husband as heavenly; what he does is a heavenly act and she can only follow him.” I was a girl, I would eventually marry and become part of someone else’s family; as such my existence was simply not of the same consequence as that of my three brothers, who would carry on the family line and provide for our parents when they became old.
But I knew none of this when I was young, and instead decided it was due to the shape of my nose or the color of my eyes; and for years to come I would fret over and find fault with the girl who looked back at me from the mirror.
I have traveled far from the land of my birth, and even farther from who I was then. More than forty years and four thousand miles separate us: the girl of sixteen who took that fi rst unwitting step forward, and the woman in her sixtieth year who now, in sight of the vast Pacific, presumes to memorialize this journey in mere words. It is a journey measured not in time or distance, but in the breadth of one’s soul and the struggle of becoming.
Excerpted from Honolulu by Alan Brennert.
Copyright © 2009 by Alan Brennert.
Published in February 2010 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
From the bestselling author of the “dazzling historical saga” (The Washington Post), Moloka’i, comes the irresistible story of a young immigrant bride in a ramshackle town that becomes a great modern city
“In Korea in those days, newborn girls were not deemed important enough to be graced with formal names, but were instead given nicknames, which often reflected the parents’ feelings on the birth of a daughter: I knew a girl named Anger, and another called Pity. As for me, my parents named me Regret.”
Honolulu is the rich, unforgettable story of a young “picture bride” who journeys to Hawai'i in 1914 in search of a better life.
Instead of the affluent young husband and chance at an education that she has been promised, she is quickly married off to a poor, embittered laborer who takes his frustrations out on his new wife. Renaming herself Jin, she makes her own way in this strange land, finding both opportunity and prejudice. With the help of three of her fellow picture brides, Jin prospers along with her adopted city, now growing from a small territorial capital into the great multicultural city it is today. But paradise has its dark side, whether it’s the daily struggle for survival in Honolulu’s tenements, or a crime that will become the most infamous in the islands’ history...
With its passionate knowledge of people and places in Hawai'i far off the tourist track, Honolulu is most of all the spellbinding tale of four women in a new world, united by dreams, disappointment, sacrifices, and friendship.
Posted March 29, 2010
As a lover of the Hawaiian Islands, I've been so happy to discover Alan Brennert's novels. I haven't run across much quality fiction about Hawaii and it's people, so I was excited when Mr. Brennert's first novel "Molokai" appeared at the book store. And I was doubly thrilled when "Honolulu" was published. Both books are excellent. I particularly appreciate the fact that the author has put alot of time into research in order to give an accurate portrayal of the lives of his Hawaiian characters. I've always been interested in the authentic Hawaii - it's history, the people who have populated the islands, and the cultures they have brought with them to make Hawaii what it is today. These two stories are each an absorbing read and an easy way for anyone to learn some Hawaiian history. "Molokai" tells the story of a little girl torn from her family and sent to live in the leper colony. My heart ached for this little girl. She has all the same dreams and yearnings as any other, but she's ostracized by a fearful and ignorant society. It's a story of courage and resilience and the right to live a full and happy life despite one's circumstances. You'll learn much about Kalaupapa through her story. "Honolulu" is set in the more recent past and tells the story of a young Korean teenager taking a chance at a new and more liberated life. She defies tradition, leaves her family and travels to Hawaii to marry a man she's never met. No matter how many setbacks, she never gives up. I think this second book is really more a story about Honolulu, using the life of the main character as the vehicle to tell the story. I would have liked it if some of the emotions of the character had been more richly explored, but it's a minor point. These are good reads, great for book clubs, and keepers in my home library. Now I just want Alan Brennert to write another!
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Posted December 16, 2009
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Earlier this year I read "Moloka'i" which blew me away. I assigned it to my book club, and it was one of the few books in our 12 years of existence that everyone loved. So with great excitement I pre-ordered "Honolulu" and just read it now as a holiday treat to myself. Yes, I know I shouldn't compare... but what a disappointment. Where it succeeded was in telling me of the history of Honolulu in the 19th century, especially the trials and tribulations that are inherent in a melting pot of cultures. (Now I want to research photos of early Honolulu.) But I never really cared for the protagonist, Jin. She was too perfect... a friend to all... a living saint... I never felt like I got into her skin and it left me detatched. I didn't grow to love or care for any of her fellow picture brides, or Hawaiian friends, many who were brought to the page from newspaper archives. I think that the author chose a few specific historical events to outline and then develop, mainly that of prositution in early 1900, the growth and strength of the pineapple industry, a particular landmark rape crime and trial, and the birth of Hawaiian shirts. By the end I was quite eager to move on to another book.
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My mother had lent me this book and I was slightly skeptic about reading it. She loves the Hawaiian islands so I thought she may be exaggerating how good the book was with her bias. And the simple title of "Honolulu" did not sound like it was going to be all too interesting. But she was spot-on! This novel swept me up into a another time and place, and I hardly wanted to put the book down. The history is well researched and the characters are likable, each with a distinct voice. The story is a lovely historical epic and you can't help but feel what Jin, the protagonist, feels and see her life through her eyes. I bought my mother Brennert's other novel, "Moloka'i", for Mother's Day and she loves that one too- and I'm anxious to read it as well. Hope to see more from this gifted author!
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Posted August 15, 2011
I was not particularly interested in the history of Hawaii but reading the story of a Korean girl's journey in and through her life on the islands was truly a joy. I love how Brennert weaves in real historical characters throughout the story. I was always "Googling" events and historical figures to verify and read more about them. Brennert is always "right on" with every event and every character. Loved it!
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Posted May 12, 2009
Brennert weaves thoroughly researched history and its details with seemingly realistic but fictional characters to create a gripping, can't put it down novel.
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Posted May 10, 2009
I loved Honolulu by Alan Brennert! Honolulu is just one of those books that sucks you in - with its story, characters, great writing - and compels you to read just one more chapter, even though it's already 2am.
Honolulu tells the story of Regret , the only girl born to a traditional Korean family. Wishing to learn, Regret approaches her father, only to be beat down and berated. As a last resort, Regret secretly offers herself up as a picture bride (equivalent of a mail-order bride), only telling her parents once the match is complete. Disowned by her father, Regret travels to Hawaii to meet the rich, handsome husband promised by the matchmaker. Once in Hawaii, Regret finds herself as a wife to a plantation worker with drinking and gambling problems, and a foul temper. Nothing she does is ever good enough, and she endures much physical abuse before choosing to leave her husband, and run away to Honolulu. In control of her life for the first time, Regret (now taking the name Jin) finds her way with hard work and the renewed friendships with the other picture brides. Through numerous tests and trials, Jin realizes the strength she never knew she had, and becomes a great immigrant success story.
In addition to spanning Jin's entire lifetime, Honolulu is a very accurate depiction of life in 20th century Hawaii. In the prologue, Alan Brennert explains that various events described in the novel are historically accurate. I think Honolulu is a great way to learn about that part of Hawaii's history while enjoying the story. I only wish that we read more books like this in history classes.
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Posted April 20, 2009
3.75 stars! What a hard one to review! I say "hard" simply because I loved Moloka'i so much I figure that I would be unfairly comparing the two (which I probably did). This story was a little slower to get into and I later discovered this to be the pace throughout the novel, however, the story was a good one about an area of history of which I knew very little--picture brides. It has been a while since I've read Moloka'i so my memory may not be too clear but I found I appreciated the writing in Moloka'i so much more--the writing in this one felt much more...simple? and Brennert employed one of the techniques I dislike in books: a statement made at the end of each section/chapter that foreshadows the coming event. I don't know why this technique annoys me but it does and honestly, maybe he did this in Moloka'i and it just didn't bother me then.
The main character was very likeable (albeit a little bit Mary Poppinsish for my taste) and I found that I really cared for the outcome of her story. I also appreciated the discoveries about Korean culture. I always enjoy a story about cultures.
Brennert obviously has a great love for Hawaii and for its history, warts and all. I really appreciate the diversity of his Hawaiin stories and eagerly wait for another.(
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Posted December 30, 2011
Posted August 2, 2011
It is very rare in life to find a story that can move you to be passionate. Even more so to inspired and honestly touched by words on a page. Yet, following this story I found myself seeing less ink on pages and more of a new and exciting world through the eyes of Regret. Regret exhbits an honest bravery rarely seen in book heroines, rarely seen in anyone really. She possesses a passion that outweighs all her fears and insecurities, and she follows it far from her traditional life in Korea to a new life and a new name. Starting over in Hawai'i as Jin she struggles to make something of her life even as all her hopes and dreams crumble around her. She suffers great tragedies and yet discovers immense joy in family and friends. Jin's "sisters" and all of the ecclectic people she encounters have thier own vivid tales which intertwine with Jin's touching account to create an expierence rather than just a book. This book follows Jin through many heartbreaking struggles which she endures, and shows a inspiring strength of heart and spirit. It paints a beautiful and complete picture of Hawai'i, showing many differnt sides that one cannot see of it just staring at a photograph. Most importantly this book, as well as Jin herself, lives up to the name of "Gem".
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Posted June 11, 2009
This was a very touching book about the older days of living in Honolulu. The author did an excellent job of writing about events from touch times, romance, sad and happy endings. The book of Honolulu meant more to me as I had just visited Honolulu and reading it gave me more insight of the islands. This is my first book written by this author and I would highly recommend reading this book.
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Posted May 9, 2009
I really enjoyed Honolulu! I live on Oahu so I like to read books related to Hawaii. I learned a lot of things that I didn't know about that time. It is a wonderful book!
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Posted July 5, 2013
Posted July 5, 2013
Alan Brennert makes you believe you are right there, I wish the story never ended. I've been to Hawai'i several times and wasn't aware of the plight the Asian population had during the early 19th century. Now I do. I absolutely loved this book. Hope to read more books from Mr Brennert.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 12, 2013
Posted May 26, 2013
Interesting blending of history, multi-cultural characters and challenging situations. This book covers a time of change in the world through the eyes and experience of one young woman. Hawaii is like no other state; its riches lie in the land and its people. An enjoyable tale!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 26, 2013
Posted April 26, 2013
Posted April 21, 2013
While this was the first book I've read of this author, he disappointed me. He doesn't write from a woman's perspective and I truly felt that something was missing. It just didn't feel like the character had a woman's voice. However, it was interesting to learn about Korean culture during that era.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 17, 2013
I bought this after reading Molokai. I thought Molokai was a little better, but this is very good too. I enjoyed learning about the history of Hawaii and the immigrants who shaped it. The characters had interesting depth and I found myself very caught up in the story. This is especially fun to read, along with Molokai, if you are going to Hawaii, but no trip is necessary. If you like historical fiction, this might be a good pick for you.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 5, 2013
This story pulled together much of Honolulu's fascinating history into a smoothly flowing biography. I have always been interested in the many ethnic groups that came together under so many different circumstances to give our 50th state its 'flavor'. This was an interesting telling of many of those groups.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.