Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Honolulu by Alan Brennert *Review*

Kampana- A Buddhist term meaning "good people's hearts are moved" to do a compassionate act.

Honolulu is the rich, unforgettable story of a young "picture bride" who journeys to Hawaii in 1914 in search of a better life. Instead of the affluent young husband and chance at an education 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, which is 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 of the island's history... With it's passionate knowledge of people and places in Hawaii 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.

Honolulu was a sweeping novel that followed the life of Jin, a young Korean woman as she moved to Hawaii to become a picture bride and followed her through many milestones in her life up to her 60th birthday. When she arrives in Hawaii she is startled to find her fiance is not how he was portrayed. Though disappointed, she knows she can not go back to her homeland so she decides to give it a go. Her husband is a common laborer who drinks, gambles all their money away, and beats her. She decides to leave him and thus begins a new life in the foreign city of Honolulu.

Jin is one of these soul-deep beautiful people who hold true to her ideals. No matter how hard life is for her- and she does suffer through many trials- she doesn't sway from her beliefs and inspires those around her to be better people for having known her. During her years in Hawaii she makes many lifelong friends and gives so much of herself to each one of them.

Normally I tend to get a little bored with books that follow a character through that many years of their life. That was not the case with this one. Author Alan Brennert wove so much history of the Hawaiian islands into this fictional story that at times it could pass as non-fiction for the wealth of knowledge in it, but it doesn't read like non-fiction at all.

Kampana, the Buddhist term from the opening of this post, defines so much of this novel that it could have served just as well as it's title. Jin loves so deeply, and despairs so deeply, that one can feel their heart swelling or breaking right along with her. I thought this was a fantastic book and one to enjoy just for the history of Hawaii in the infancy of the island as a part of the Americas.