Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Honolulu by Alan Brennert (a review)

3 out of 5: Honolulu is an epic historical novel about a Korean girl who defies her middle-class family and immigrates to Hawaii as a 17-year-old “picture bride” in 1914. Named “Regret” because “every family in those days desired a son over a daughter,” this protagonist rebels against her strictly limited existence in Korea, renames herself “Jin,” and seeks a better life in the United States. Honolulu is loaded with Hawaiian history and explores the lives of immigrants in many settings, including their work on the vast sugarcane plantations as near-slaves, their prostitution in the infamous red-light district of Iwilei, their experiences during the World Wars and the Depression, and the impact of Hawaii’s deep racial tensions, including race riots and a racially-motivated murder trial. In the end, Regret’s story feels like a contrived vehicle for telling the larger history of Hawaii. While it’s an interesting history, the over-abundant historical events and details don’t allow much room for character development. Even after 350 pages, the characters never acquire much of a presence but, rather, appear to float along on a massive tide of history. Honolulu will appeal to those who like a bit of fiction with their history.

1 comment:

Zibilee said...

I had been eying this book, but now that I have read your review, I think I will wait. I like my historical fiction heavy on character development, and this sounds just the opposite.