- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Press;
- Author: Alan Brennert
Scared yet excited, fatigued but energized, Regret and a group of young picture brides from Korea look out from a cabin window as the old ship they had boarded in Yokohama, Japan pulls into the Port of Honolulu, Hawai'i. Each girl expects to see a young, nice-looking gentleman of means (as per photos received) so imagine their shock and horror even when they discover that instead of handsome young men they are greeted by a motley group of wizend older men with skin as tough as hide revealing that the owner of that skin was not a scholarly man who had a white-collar job but one that had to work hard in the open. One of the girls is so overcome with disappointment and horror that she uses whatever money she has left to board the ship back to Japan and then Korea. The other picture brides are not so lucky and they, including Regret, disembark the ship, marry the men waiting for them and spend the next few years enduring the tough life of sugarcane plantation workers in Hawai'i.
After Regret is beaten up by her husband several times (and miscarries due to the beatings) she runs away to Honolulu , shrugs off her unfortunate moniker "Regret", takes on a new name "Jin" (gem) and in her new avatar she becomes a seamstress, mending clothes for hookers in order to keep herself afloat. Jin's story follows a lot of twists and turns not unlike her adopted country and Brennert does an excellent job of tying Jin's story to the historical events in Hawai'i at that time.
Although this is historical "fiction", Brennert's book feels meticulously and exquisitely researched...it is filled with cultural details of that period - songs, food, clothes, historical events and even historical figures. I have, however, just one quibble with an incident that occurs in the early part of the book:
When Regret was beaten up by her husband for the second time she was advised to go to the Pastor of the Korean Methodist church for resolution, I wonder why Brennert didn't have her go to the local Dong-Hoi instead. According to histories written about the plantations in Honolulu, the Korean plantation workers had banded together to form a mutual aid society called Dong-Hoi with, at its head a judge (voted in by the workers) called Dong-chang. THe Dong-chang ruled in marital disputes and a man beating his wife was seldom tolerated. Also, the Dong-Hoi did not encourage gambling and drinking, infact, they prohibited it, so I am not sure how Mr. Noh, Regret's husband was painted by Brennert as a gambler and drunkard.
But aside from that quibble, "Honolulu" is a wonderfully-written tribute to the people of Hawai'i and while it is primarily the story a story of Jin, the Korean picture bride who had to learn to throw off the Confucian notion that women were worthless, it is also the story of how Asian, Portuguese, Spanish and Filipino workers were brought to Hawai’i by the sugar barons who needed laborers to work on the plantations, thus sowing the seeds for the multi-ethnic society that Hawai'i is today and that America is mirroring. Brennert likes to say, the story of Honolulu is in many ways the story of Barack Obama, and the story of America as well.
Finally, Hawai'i, at some point or another figures on everyone's travel plans...rather than just arming yourself with the usual guide book, why don't you grab a copy of "Honolulu" and learn, through the most wonderful and evocative writing, the history of Hawai'i? Reading and knowing the history of a place can add a different dimension to one's travel there.
This is Alan Brennert's second novel featuring Hawai'i. The first, was an equally wonderful book titled "Moloka'i", which I would recommend very highly too
And now here's a dessert talked about several times in the book. Enjoy!
Pineapple Cream Pie
| The filling for this pineapple pie is made with canned crushed pineapple, cream, egg yolks, and sugar. The pie is topped with an egg white meringue. |