Originally named “Regret” in Korea by her parents, who had prayed for a male baby twenty-five years earlier, Jin chooses a costly rebellion as a young girl by deciding to learn how to read, an almost criminal act for Korean women in the early 1900s. She then decides to become the “picture bride” of a Korean man living in Hawaii, an experience which enables her to deeply understand the Korean concept of han, the endurance of suffering with courage and dignity despite and throughout life’s most difficult circumstances.
The novel is chock full of historical relevance, ranging from the horrific conditions of Korean’s submission to Japan’s invasion and control, the dire conditions of Hawaiian pineapple farm workers, the struggle for survival through the 1929 Depression and its aftermath, the violent conflicts between white (haolis) and native/Asian-Hawaiian residents, and so much more. Jin returns to Korea twenty-five years later to complete unfinished business with her family and her adopted sister-in-law, who early on in the story ran away to find the family who had sold her. Violence, divorce, prejudice, financial strife and finally acceptance fill Jin and her family’s life as dramatically and lovingly presented in these fascinating pages so elegantly crafted by this talented author. Hawaiian customs and traditions are depicted with just the right balance of truth to lend a spirit of joy and celebration next to the more cutting edges of this very “real” saga.
Honolulu is a graceful, honest and dynamic story sure to evoke a multitude of emotions and leave the reader with deep respect for the endurance and dignity of the human spirit. A must read and superb example of Korean-American historical fiction.