Honolulu: A Novel

Honolulu: A Novel

by Alan Brennert

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312606343
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/02/2010
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 103,531
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.22(h) x 1.21(d)

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.

Read an Excerpt

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.

Reading Group Guide

Recommended Reading

Sunset in a Spider Web, adapted by Virginia Olsen Baron and translated by Minja Park Kim, contains many lovely sijo poems of old Korea by the kisaeng Hwang Chini and others.

The Trembling of a Leaf by W. Somerset Maugham collects some of his short stories set in the South Seas, including "Rain." It's worth noting that although Maugham later spoke unflatteringly of his bawdy rooming-house neighbor, May Thompson's fictional counterpart Sadie is the most winning character in the story and the author clearly intended for her to win the reader's sympathies as well. Maugham was too fine a writer to let his personal animosity get in the way of a great character.

Think of a Garden and Other Plays by John Kneubuhl showcases three stage plays set in Hawai'i and the author's native Samoa (where his parents, who owned a trading post on Pago Pago, met Maugham and May on their rainy stopover). Kneubuhl was a preeminent playwright on Polynesian/Pacific themes, as well as a prolific writer for television in the 1950s and 60s.

And for anyone curious about modern Honolulu in the years after Jin's story ends, I highly recommend My Time in Hawaii by Victoria Nelson, a beautifully wrought memoir of "her time" in Honolulu, spanning the years from 1969 to 1981.

Reading Group Questions

1. How do you feel about Jin's decision to leave Korea? What might you have done in her place? How do you regard the various decisions she made after learning the truth about her fiancé in Hawai'i?

2. How would you interpret the poem by Hwang Chini on page 26 within the context of the novel?

3. Korea and Hawai'i were both small countries, in strategic locations, that came to be dominated by more powerful nations. In what other ways were the Korean and Hawaiian societies of the time both similar and different?

4. Compare and contrast the lives of a Korean kisaeng and an Iwilei prostitute.

5. How does the author weave real people and events into the lives of his fictional characters, and how do they contribute to your understanding of Jin's circumstances? If you were already familiar with any of the historical figures, how do you view them after reading the novel? For example, the author is uncertain of May Thompson's fate in real life—what do you think she might have done after leaving Honolulu? What do you think about the Governor's decision to commute the sentences of Lt. Massie and the others convicted in Joe Kahahawai's death?

6. How have Americans' attitudes toward immigrants changed—or not changed—since the 1900s?

7. The biography Passage of a Picture Bride describes its real-life subject as having a "positive outlook and broad-mindedness, unusual traits among Korean women" of that time. How does this statement apply to Jin and her fellow picture brides?

8. What binds Jin and her "Sisters of Kyongsang" together, other than the kye? What purpose do they serve in each other's lives?

9. What is the significance of the patchwork quilts not just to Jin's life, but to the life of Hawai'i itself?

10. At the end of the novel, Jin says "Hawai'i has often been called a melting pot, but I think of it more as a ‘mixed plate'—a scoop of rice with gravy, a scoop of macaroni salad, a piece of mahi-mahi, and a side of kimchi. Many different tastes share the plate, but none of them loses its individual flavor, and together they make up a uniquely ‘local' cuisine. This is also, I believe, what America is at its best—a whole great than the sum of its parts." What do you believe? What is gained and what is lost—both in Hawai'i and in the U.S. as a whole—in becoming a multicultural society? How might this be particularly relevant to Native Hawaiians?

Customer Reviews

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Honolulu 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 193 reviews.
TimmyTam More than 1 year ago
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!
songbird27 More than 1 year ago
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!
Schubidoo More than 1 year ago
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.
Ireadallsummer More than 1 year ago
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!
pjpick More than 1 year ago
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.(
Marcilet More than 1 year ago
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".
Bish22 More than 1 year ago
Brennert weaves thoroughly researched history and its details with seemingly realistic but fictional characters to create a gripping, can't put it down novel.
Newg More than 1 year ago
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!
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not quite as heart rendering as Molokai but very good all the same. Starts in Korea with Jin raised in an old school household, she wants and education more than anything but girls are not valued for their book smarts. She signs on to be a picture bride and end up in Honolulu. What follows is a very good story with plenty of the history as she arrives when American businessman have already deposed the last Hawaiian monarch, though not in the peoples minds. Well written and interesting, Brennert really gets into the culture of the island as well as the politics and struggles of the people.
bookwyrmm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I first started reading Honolulu, it really reminded me of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. However, the further I got into it, the more different and lush it became. This is a wonderful historical fiction piece about Korean "picture brides" and life in Hawaii in the early 1900s. Brennert's writing brings both Jin and Honolulu to picturesque life making this a must-read.
bookwormteri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Alan Brennert can tell one hell of a story. He writes beautifully and his characters are so well fleshed out that you feel like you really know them and have lived their lives with them. Jin is so complex and strong, human and lovable. She leaves Korea to marry a man she has never met and move to Hawaii. Her life does not turn out the way she expected, but I was in love with her story. Don't think that this is some "oppressed woman" book, beacause it is not. It is a beautiful story of one woman's life with it's heartbreak and joys laid bare for everyone to read. Please keep writing, I will read your grocery list if you choose to publish it.....
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Sararush on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Honolulu by Alan Brennert starts in Korea where a young girl named Regret (her parents were hoping for a boy) dreams of better her circumstances. Through some scheming Regret manages to get a limited education. But even when schools are accepting girls, Regret's traditional father forbids it. Eager for something more, Regret re-names herself Jin and lists herself as a picture bride for Korean immigrants in Hawaii. Too the great shame of her family, Jin departs for Hawaii, expecting a rich, handsome husband and a land where the streets are paved with gold and fruit is so plentiful you can just pluck it from the trees. Inevitable disappointment follows and Jin must risk everything she has and defy everything she has been taught to build a life and future for herself.Brennert deftly builds Jin's story around the historical and cultural events happening first in Korea and then Hawaii. He is able to explore the desolate gender disparities, racial tension, Hawaii's annexation, poverty, etc... while telling a coming if age story with only the occasional slip. There are moments when Jin's stories give way to the Hawaii factoids and the narration mimics a brief history lesson. Jin's saga is lushly descriptive, well constructed, and rendered. It should be a delight to historical fiction fans.
arjacobson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Honolulu by Alan Brennert (New York, St. Martin¿s Press, 2009. 360 pp)Born in New Jersey and raised in Southern California, Alan Brennert received a Bachelor¿s degree in English from California State University at Long Beach. In addition to novels, Brennert writes short stories, screenplays, teleplays, and musicals. For his work on L.A. Law, he was awarded an Emmy in 1991. During his career, Brennert has also won a People¿s Choice Award and a Nebula Award.I love Hawai¿iHawai¿i is one of my favorite places. I visited several times during my childhood, and even spent my honeymoon on the secluded tropical paradise of Kauai. Last year, I read and briefly reviewed Moloka¿i by Alan Brennert, and absolutely loved it. To review, Moloka¿i was a famous leper colony from 1873-1969. I was enamored with the story of people struggling with Hansen¿s disease and dealing with the separation from families amidst the beautiful backdrop of the Hawai¿ian paradise and culture.Naturally, I thought Brennert¿s next book, Honolulu, would provide another great read. Moreover, I¿ve actually been to the city of Honolulu, so I thought I would resonate with its setting more readily. Honolulu is a tale of a Korean ¿picture bride¿ (one who is given in long-distance marriage based only on a picture) who escapes to Honolulu in search of a better life, and doesn¿t necessarily find it.The Life of a Korean Picture BrideAs the plot unfolds, Regret (the main character¿s given Korean name) encounters physical abuse by her given husband in a rural Hawaiian town on the outskirts of Honolulu. She leaves him¿only after a miscarriage from a beating¿and travels toward Honolulu. There in the city proper, she settles as a seamstress, meets a new husband, starts a restaurant business, and earns an education.And, there you have it. That¿s the basic plot of the book. It was a dece t read, but I was extremely disappointed having read his previous book Moloka¿i. So, in an effort to explain why this book didn¿t work as well, here¿s a pointed list of what to do when writing historical fiction.What Not To DoIf your book is entitled ¿Honolulu¿ and actually covers the period during the Pearl Harbor bombing, don¿t limit the description of the most famous event in the city of Honolulu to a mere single paragraph.Pick a character that is going through extreme struggle (like Regret did with her husband¿s abuse) and stay with it for a while. Sure, an abusive husband is an absolutely terrible thing, so don¿t dismiss it to talk about being a seamstress for several hundred pages.Spend time on the culture where the book is set. There were times that Queen Liliuokalani (the last queen of Hawai¿i) was mentioned, but in truth, not much was described in terms of the surroundings, or the culture of the time. Yes, a few traditional Hawaiian words were given their respective etymologies, but that doesn¿t constitute a great description of Hawaiian culture.Small business ventures do not constitute entertaining reading.If you know how to write historical fiction, like Moloka¿i, stick to what works¿use the gripping stories of the characters firmly based in a historical context. Wide acclaim for one novel shouldn¿t equal lazy writing on the next.In synopsis, the book was interesting, but I never felt particularly moved as I did with Moloka¿i. Therefore, I know that Brennert can do better, as he does write good historical fiction based in the beautiful islands of Hawai¿i. If you, like me, find a fondness for Hawai¿i¿this book can work. Honolulu does provide some historical and cultural background, and gives you a sense of how the islands functioned in the past, but in comparison to his other novels it ultimately failed. I suggest that if you decide to read one of his books, stick to Moloka¿i.Originally posted at wherepenmeetspaper.blogspot.com
eenerd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really beautiful tale of a young woman who escapes her constrained future in Korea by becoming a "picture bride" to a complete stranger in Hawai'i in 1915. When Regret arrives on the island, it is to a life of hardship she did not expect. But in her newfound country she finds the strength and opportunity to decide for herself what kind of life she will live, and sets off on an adventure in which she will make wonderful friends, have happiness, difficulty, sadness and success. Alan Brennert writes beautifully, and makes turn of the century Hawai'i come alive, as well as his many cultured characters. A great, lush read.
njmom3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was a very quick read and shared a lot of the history of the community along with presenting an enjoyable story.
kysmom02 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! This book read like a non-fiction book, though fiction since the stories and characters were embellished. I loved the authors style of writing, with lead-in's to sections and chapters. The descriptions of the characters and the places in the book were incredibly vivid. It's easy to feel compassion and love for the main character, Jin, and the struggles that she faces in Hawaii after leaving her home in Korea.
punxsygal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1914 a young Korean "picture bride" travels to Hawaii with dreams of a better life and getting an education. The reality is different than her dreams. Her husband is abusive. Doing something unheard of in Korea, she seeks a divorce and with the help of her fellow picture brides, moves on with her life. The story is heavily steeped in the story of the Asian migration to Honolulu, which at the time was governed by five leading white men. The transition of the city from the small colonial town to the large cosmopolitan city of today was not smooth. The story, a work of fiction, does make reference to some real people and with artistic license borrows the references to the lives of others. This was thoroughly engrossing read--well worth the time spent.
Copperskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an easy book for me to like. Honolulu is the story of a young Korean ¿picture bride¿ who travels to Honolulu in the hope of escaping the oppression of early 20th century Korea. Not unexpectedly, her husband is not as promised and life in Hawaii is not, initially, as she had planned. I love reading about Hawaii and learning some history along the way. This is a good book to settle in with and enjoy. I would also recommend Brennert's first book about Hawaii, Moloka'i.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I recently took my first trip to Hawaii. In the weeks leading up to my vacation, (as always) I began looking for the perfect reading material for my trip. I knew I wanted to read something set on Oahu, where I was going. How convenient, then, that Alan Brennert published Honolulu right before my trip! To be perfectly honest, the description of the story about a Korean "picture bride" didn't sound too interesting. If I hadn't been heading to Honolulu, I would have passed it up. And I would have lost out on reading a lovely novel. Honolulu is the story of Regret. That's Regret with a capitol "r," because that is what her birth name means. She is born in the Korean countryside in 1897, and her folks aren't too thrilled to have a daughter, even though they have four sons. It's a cultural thing. Regret's childhood in Korea is interesting. She grows up in a fairly rigid Confucian household, and I was fascinated by this glimpse of a time, place, and rich culture I was completely unfamiliar with. I thought Brennert did an exceptionally good job of exploring the differences in the Korean world view. Throughout her childhood, the one thing Regret wants more than anything else is an education--a very unrealistic goal. In Korea, she is doomed to a very restricted life spent primarily in the inner rooms of her father's, and eventually her husband's, home. For these reasons, Regret takes a leap of faith and signs up to be the picture bride of a handsome and wealthy Korean gentleman in Hawaii, where the streets are "paved with gold." That last should give you an idea that all in Hawaii is not as advertised, but Regret (or Jin as she rechristens herself) has opened the door to a much larger life than she ever could have imagined. In the telling of Jin's life story, Brennert does an excellent job of bringing Oahu to life, and exploring the island's culture and history in a fully engaging way. It was so exciting to read about locations in the book, having just visited them in real life! I literally could not have picked a better companion volume for my trip. But aside from the cool location stuff, I was very caught up in Jin's story. As I began reading, the book that repeatedly came to mind was Memoir of a Geisha. Similarities between the two books are somewhat superficial, but like Geisha, Honolulu was a completely captivating read.
verka6811 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I LOVED LOVED Honolulu by Alan Brennert! (I think this book deserves 'loved' in capital letters). I received an advanced reader's copy and put off reading it for a while, and I am so glad I finally did. 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. (Korean families valued male children over females, and often gave their daughters names like Sorrow, Regret, etc.) As her name would suggest, Regret feels unwanted; while her brothers attend school, Regret is confined to small room where she learns domestic duties from her mother. 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.Stuck in steerage on a ship bound for Hawaii, Regret befriends her fellow picture brides. Upon arrival, the girls are all faced with a similar fate - the rich and handsome men they saw in the photos are really old, unattractive, and mostly poor. One of them catches the ship back to Korea, others are quickly married and carted off in different directions. 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.
Suuze on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed reading this book, though not as much as I did Moloka'i. I bonded more with the main character in that book than I did with Honolulu's 'Regret'. I did admire her pluckiness in all sorts of nasty situations, and her loyalty to friends and family. The narrative winds it's way with 'Regret', following her from Korea to Hawai'i where she starts life in a new country as a 'picture bride'.I was saddened to read about the treatment of Hawaiian natives by the American corporate leaders who invaded Hawaii. There was no respect for the native people of Hawaii, and it even carried over to immigrants who weren't white and wealthy. It reminded me of the way the Native Americans were discarded when the land they lived on was desired by colonists. Having been to Hawaii quite a few times, I saw some of that disrespect myself, and it disgusted me.This is a book you can read quickly, and won't want to put down once you start. Although my review sounds as if it's a sad book, it really isn't and will leave you with a smile on your face.
KC9333 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Young girl dreams to leave oppressive life in Korea, where girls cannot receive an education. She travels to Hawaii to marry - only to discover her betrothed and Hawaii are not what she expected. The book does a wonderful job of bringing turn of the century Honolulu to life. Racial tensions and poverty are examined. We are also reminded that one's choices in life have far reaching consequences. Well Done and not to be missed!
lildrafire on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Historical fiction has never been my first choice as a genre. Brennert's masterful story tells of a lowly Korean girl's struggles, which are set against the backdrop of the country's occupation by Japanese at the turn of the 20th century. The girl, unfortunately named Regret, decided to escape her predestined fate and travel to the USA as a picture bride. The brutal reality of life for a picture bride is soon revealed to her and her friends. While expecting respect and wealth with new husbands in Hawaii, they instead find poverty and abuse. This story grasped me and didn't let go, convincing me to look at the genre in a new light. The novel was set against famously historical events, with characters developed so brilliantly that they were indistinguishable from the real people portrayed in the novel. The author masterfully intertwines fact and fiction to create something this reader has never experienced before. An exceptional story and a little bit of interesting history lead me to believe that you won't "regret" reading this one. I certainly didn't.(As submitted to Elle Magazine's Grand Prix 2009)
Smilee306 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just finished Honolulu by Alan Brennert, and I thought it was absolutely brilliant. It was well-written and well-researched while still enticing with great characters and stories. Brennert weaves the lesser-known bits of Hawai'i's early 20th century into a moving story about a Korean girl. I stayed up late too many nights because I really wanted to know what would happen to these characters, and I'm still thinking about parts of the book now. I want to purchase this book, and will look for his earlier book about Moloka'i as well.