Summary and book reviews of Honolulu by Alan Brennert

Honolulu

By Alan Brennert

Honolulu
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2009,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2010,
    464 pages.

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Read Alan Brennert's blog entry about Honolulu at BookBrowse.

Chapter 14

Today the 1920s are often referred to as Hawai'i’s “glamour days,” though they were considerably less glamorous for those who struggled under the crushing poverty of Kauluwela, Green Block, or Hell’s Half Acre. But for our family, as for many other Korean households in Hawai'i, the twenties were a time of rising prosperity. There were now perhaps a hundred or so Korean families living in Buckle Lane and adjacent Akepo Lane— most of them having fled the plantations for the canneries, even as others abandoned the canneries to become tailors, launderers, shoemakers, or grocers. The twenties were also kind to my Sisters of Kyongsang. As Wise Pearl’s carnation farm flourished, she and Mr. Kam invested more of its profits in additional acres on which they raised barley, to be made into a kind of Korean taffy called yot. Shizu and Beauty’s barbershop, on the corner of Merchant and Bishop Streets, was ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. How do you feel about Jin’s decision to leave Korea? What do you think that you might 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 story?

  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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Honolulu is everything good historical fiction should be. It entertains and educates, while immersing the reader in the time and place conveyed, and it's sure to find its way into many readers' hearts.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (1142 words).

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Brennert takes perhaps too much care in creating an encyclopedic portrait of Hawaii in the early 1900s .... Luckily, Jin's story should be strong enough to pull readers through the clutter.

Booklist - Carol Hagas

Brennert’s lush tale of ambition, sacrifice, and survival is immense in its dramatic scope yet intimate in its emotive detail.

Library Journal

"Starred Review. 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."

Washington Post

[I]n 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."

Elle Magazine

Veteran Hollywood writer Alan Brennert scored a book-club hit with Moloka'i and has apparently one-upped himself with his freestanding follow-up about early-twentieth-century Hawaii, which was our readers' clear favorite... a lovely novel.

San Francisco Chronicle

A moving, multilayered epic by a master of historical fiction.

Reader Reviews
Linda Parker

Honolulu
The book was great I put myself in the heart of Regret and I followed the path she took it made the book come alive and the experiences so emotional to me. I experienced many different emotions while reading the book. I am in a cultural book club ...   Read More

MAKIT

Rich and Colorful Book Filled with True Emotions
A colorful book and filled with true emotions. A must read!

Pat Henry

Dec.7th?
Great book. But it suddenly jumps ahead to the 50's, as I remember. Did the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field and Honolulu never happen? How did the main character and others in the book react to that?

Maureen Metheny

Great read!
I loved this book. It was entertaining and informative -- I couldn't put it down. Appreciated the chance to learn about early Hawaii. Will look for more by this author.

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Beyond the Book

Korean Picture Brides
Korea became the object of Japan's colonial ambitions in the late nineteenth century, culminating in Japan's annexation of the region in 1910. Koreans, escaping the abuse and heavy taxation imposed by the Japanese, began immigrating to Hawaii. Approximately 6000 migrated to the islands between 1906 and 1910, 90% of whom were male. Most ended up as laborers on sugarcane plantations. The Japanese government prohibited emigration to Hawaii starting in 1910, but provided an exception for relatives of those already living in Hawaii.

A shortage of marriageable women, combined with the loophole in Japan's immigration laws, allowed for the rise of the "picture bride." A Korean man in Hawaii would provide a ...

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