Friday, February 24, 2012

Review: Honolulu

I've begun to believe quite firmly that there is something about February that really gets to people.

I'm no exception. I feel decidedly uninspired, tired, and lacking in confidence in just about every area of my life.

I'm beginning to have crazy thoughts about throwing away every piece of clothing I own and buying all new things because I hate all of it. And then I realize I also hate the way clothes hang on me and I think I should probably basically live at the track and I shouldn't be allowed back in the kitchen until I've shed 50 pounds. I think I need a bright pink mani-pedi, a haircut, some new paint on the walls, and a change of scenery, pronto. I'm tired of staring at these walls and would like to stare at the walls somewhere else for a little while, please.

Honolulu would suffice.

Have you been? All of islands of Hawaii are basically magical, to me. I won't get into it; just know that I love, love, love Hawaii, particularly Maui.

So that might be part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much. It's part The Joy Luck Club (except Korean instead of Chinese) and part rambling epic history of the island of Oahu.

You're always going to enjoy reading novels that are set in a location you've visited or lived in. This is the very reason I'll occasionally enjoy a Carl Hiaasen novel -- they're set in Florida, and the weirdest shit happens in them. None of it's the slightest bit believable unless you've actually spent any time in Florida, which is when you realize it's practically an alternate universe where anything goes.

Honolulu starts out in rural Korea in the 1920s. I had next to no knowledge of what life was like in Korea for women at that time, so it was interesting to learn about how they were basically treated as property, and not allowed to go to school, etc. There are also little cultural tidbits, such as how Koreans believe you should not show emotion, whether happy or sad. Not sure if this is still the case, but apparently it was in the '20s.

The protagonist, Regret (Korean parents were not thrilled with female children), ends up moving to Honolulu as a "picture bride" when she's just a teenager. This was apparently something that happened with a number of women from several countries at the time. People from countries all over the place were moving to the islands because there was a lot of agricultural work to be done, in addition to the huge numbers of military people who lived (and still do live) there. That sentence was poorly constructed; I apologize.

The book spans a number of years, from Regret's (she renames herself Jin) childhood to her 60s, and covers happenings in her personal life as well as actual historical events that the author takes the liberty of injecting his fictional characters into. It was interesting to learn more about the history of the extreme diversity of the islands and the struggles that resulted from the mixing of peoples who sort of hated each other. If you've ever eaten "mixed plate," the very diversity of the islands is where this food comes from.

I wished I'd been reading Honolulu while resting beach-side on a lounge chair, in the islands. It made me want to go back very badly. I think overall this is a really easy, entertaining read. My only issue with the novel is that because it focuses so heavily on historic events, you lose some of the feelings you might have otherwise had for the characters, and you end up not entirely caring what happens to them. Also, the novel never addresses the one major event I expected to read about: the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Still, it's a decent read.

Brennert has another novel called Moloka'i that I'd really like to read. Molokai is known mainly for having been a leper colony (where several patients still live), so obviously has a really interesting history that I'd love to learn more about. My parents spent some time there (as visitors, not lepers) and it's still a rather unspoiled island. From what I understand, there is basically one road in town, and no stop lights.

I'm sure I'll be reading it and posting about it later ...

Hope you have a great weekend in the sunshine ... 


  1. I hear you about February. It's getting pretty bleak up where I am.

    This looks like a novel I'd better put on my Amazon wish list. Thanks for the recommend!