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4.2 173
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

Honolulu is the richly imagined story of Jin, a young “picture bride” who leaves her native


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

Honolulu is the richly imagined story of Jin, a young “picture bride” who leaves her native Korea—where girls are so little valued that she is known as Regret—and journeys to Hawaii in 1914 in search of a better life.
Instead of the prosperous young husband and the chance at an education she has been promised, Jin is quickly married off to a poor, embittered laborer who takes his disappointments out on his new wife, forcing her to make her own way in a strange land.

Struggling to build a business with the help of her fellow picture brides, Jin finds both opportunity and prejudice, but ultimately transforms herself from a naive young girl into a resourceful woman. Prospering along with her adopted city, which is fast growing from a small territorial capital to the great multicultural city it is today, Jin can never forget the people she left behind in Korea, and returns one last time to make her peace with her former life.

With its passionate knowledge of people and places in Hawaii far off the tourist track, Honolulu is a spellbinding story of the triumphs and sacrifices of the human spirit that is sure to become another reading group favorite.

Editorial Reviews

As a young Korean woman at the onset of 20th century, Regret knows that there is only one possible avenue to the education she seeks. She must become a mail-order bride. She travels to Hawaii to meet the man she has agreed to marry, but it becomes apparent all too quickly that he is not the genteel, prosperous young man she imagined he would be. Instead, she finds herself yoked to an impoverished plantation worker addicted to alcohol and gambling. Her painful situation forces her to fend for herself and form beneficial alliances with other "picture brides." This powerful historical novel draws you into the plight of a woman swimming in the uncertainty of a new culture.
Krista Walton
Honolulu is meticulously researched…[Brennert] intersperses cultural details—song lyrics, movies, popular books from the era—that add textured authenticity, and he incorporates major historic events…In many respects, Jin's story is prototypical, the bildungsroman of an aspiring woman, yearning for a life beyond the one society has prescribed. (Jin Eyre, anyone?) But in mooring this familiar character to the unique history of early-20th-century Hawaii, 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
Publishers Weekly

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.
Library Journal

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.]
—Beth Gibbs

From the Publisher

“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

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Center Point
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Large Print Edition
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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.

Meet 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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Honolulu 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 173 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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down!! Highly recommended
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love it. I could connect with gem even though we are so different. The writing pulled me in and held me.
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mystery53 More than 1 year ago
The book is way too busy. Because I learned much about the history of the times, I did give the book three stars.
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Wonderful,a page turner. Loved it
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cowsr4me2 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much. It was a nice mix of history and fiction. It moved along quickly and I cared about the characters and was sad to see it end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.