What can be better than to read a book about Hawaii? Probably, to visit there which is my dream vacation and I hope to travel there someday. The next best thing was to discuss a wonderful historical fiction book related to Hawaii with my book club.
Honolulu by Alan Brennert captures the essence of Hawaii in the 1920's and 1930's and encapsulates the immigrant experience through the characters that emigrate there from different countries and cultures. At the center of Honolulu is Jin, a young girl who leaves her native country of Korea to become a "picture bride" to a man she has never met in Hawaii. She is led to believe that the roads are paved in gold and there are many more opportunities for women there. Girls are not valued in Korean culture and Jin was named Regret at birth. That broke my heart to read that girls lives had such little value and to label them with names that were so demeaning emphasized this. Thankfully, Regret changes her name to Jin when she arrives in Hawaii. Sadly she is not met with roads paved in gold but to find her husband-to-be a farm worker with a harsh and bitter character. The marriage is not a good one as he is horribly abusive and Jin is forced to leave and find her own way.
Jin travels to Honolulu and is able to find her way to change from a naive woman to a strong and determined woman. She finds a way to divorce and remarry a wonderful man and builds a family. She develops a strong connection to a group of friends that are also Korean picture brides and they help each other develop businesses and to survive and thrive. Along the way, they are faced with great prejudice and must deal with their own prejudices. Even the Hawaiian natives are treated poorly by American leaders who invade Hawaii.
This is a historical fiction novel and the author weaves a great amount of information that was interesting and fascinating but at times didn't flow smoothly. As readers we learn of Korean culture and the Japanese invasion of their country. We also learn a great deal about the history of Hawaii from the 20's and 30's through to the 50's which include sugar cane plantations, pineapple and carnation farming, strikes, surfers, prostitution, and the conflict between whites and and other cultures. Ultimately, the Massie Affair was brought into the story at the end which tied Jin and her family to the family of one of the accused.
In the end, Jin travels back to Korea to see the family she left behind and to make peace with her past and present. Jin was a woman of tremendous courage and strength and I admired her character greatly.
Additional Thoughts: I also read Moloka'i by Alan Brennert with my book club several years ago. I highly recommend this novel, it was one of my book clubs favorite books. It's also based in Hawaii and related to factual events. A young Hawaiian girl is sent away to a leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i and her life forever changes.
Book Club Views:
My book club met this week and we had a terrific discussion about Honolulu . We all liked the book but had different viewpoints on the story and how it was told. Several felt the book had too many story lines that were a bit choppy and didn't flow well. There was a lot woven into the story and others felt it flowed fine and needed to be taken down the different roads that it travelled to share the history of Korea, Jin's life and Hawaiian history. We all adored Jin and were happy that she was not referred to as Regret for very long in the book. We were all appalled at how undervalued women were and not allowed to be educated in Korea at this time. Many of us found ourselves researching and reading more about the Massie Affair and found it a sad and devastating part of Hawaiian history. We all agreed that Mr. Brennert did a wonderful job as a male author portraying a women's voice through Jin. All but one of us had read Moloka'i and we agreed that we liked Honolulu but preferred the story told in Moloka'i .
On to the food, my friend who hosted book club tied the appetizers and dessert she made to the Hawaiian theme and she did a fabulous job. She prepared a very special Hawaiian themed dessert of Chocolate Lava Cakes that were scrumptious. I didn't take a picture but it looked similar to this picture I found at The Pioneer Woman Cooks, you can even find a recipe there.
Next month, we are reading Blame by Michelle Huneven.
Book Club Worthy stamp of approval.