Author: Alan Brennert
Narrator: Ali Ahn
Genre: historical fiction
Length: 15.5 hours
Source: public library
Resolutions/Challenges: Regional USA Sub-Resolution
Reason for Reading: I was looking for something to read set in Hawai’i for my Regional USA Sub-Resolution. And this look at the life of a picture bride from Korea making something for herself in Hawai’i sounded intriguing!
Summary (from Goodreads):
“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.
My Thoughts: There are many things about this story that I love. First, and foremost, I love the setting, both in time and place. The majority of the story takes place in the 1910s, which is a time that I love. Particularly in American history, this is a time that marks the ending of a HUGE influx of immigrants. And then there is the setting–Korea and Hawai’i. I have never been to Korea (in books), so I was very interested to see a little of that culture. Turns out, that culture (as presented in the book, at least) isn’t very different from the Chinese and Japanese cultures of the same time. I realize that the time the story takes place had some influence on the culture.
Secondly, I especially like the second location I mentioned: Hawai’i. The time period in which the story took place was a tumultuous time in Hawai’i. There was a royal family that had lost its political power, yet Hawai’i was only an American territory, not a state. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure there was probably some identity crises going on amongst its citizens.
Only one thing from this entire story was a little off to me. That was Regret/Jin’s sister-in-law. Before she left Korea, a little 8-year-old girl was betrothed to one of her brothers and came to live with the family. When she left for Hawai’i, she hoped to get both an education and the money to send for her little sister-in-law to save her from such a life. But then most of the story goes on without mentioning this sister-in-law at all. A few times she is mentioned as Regret/Jin reestablishes her reasons for coming to Hawai’i. And she does go back and visit her for a bit in Korea. But I’m fairly certain all of the little sister-in-law could be cut from the book and there would be no major change to the story. And, now thinking about wanting an education in Hawai’i, I realize I’m a bit sad that Regret/Jin didn’t get that for a very long time–that’s a little disappointing as well.
But despite those two things, I really enjoyed the story and highly recommend it if you are interested in the time and/or place.
My Thoughts on Audio Format: Loved Ali Ahn. She has such a soothing, laid-back voice. Something I would definitely picture from stereotypical Hawai’i of today–mellow. Ahn had a lovely singing voice, as there were a couple of song-bits in the story that she sang. I think that she is definitely worth my looking into other audios she’s narrated–my TBR list might grow 🙂