Book Recommendation: Honolulu

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Ever since I read Moloka’i by Alan Brennert, I have wanted to read Honolulu. And I’m happy to report that Brennert did not disappoint.

Honolulu is the story of Regret, a Korean picture bride who emigrates to Hawaii for the opportunity not only to be free from the land ruled by the Imperial Japanese, but also to be free from the oppression suffered by women and girls in the Korea of long ago. Regret learns from an early age that she is inferior to her brothers (hence her given name), that her dream of getting an education is hopeless, and that her only path in life is a choice between spinsterhood and destitution or marriage in a culture where daughters-in-law are mistreated and humiliated by their husband’s families with impunity.

Regret’s decision to become a picture bride, much to her father’s mortification and dismay, is one that will alter the course of her life in ways she could not have imagined. As was the case with thousands of picture brides over the years, Regret was misled as to the social circumstances of her betrothed (she is led to believe he is handsome and wealthy, but…you’ll have to read the story to find out the truth) and as to the brutal realities of living on a tropical island during the early twentieth century.

The troubles which befall Regret as she tries to build her life in Hawaii seem almost insurmountable, and the story is told in a way that brings the reader straight into Regret’s home and into her thoughts.

I loved Honolulu. It took me a long time to read, but that was my fault–I started the book at the beginning of the holiday season and every time I picked it up to read, I was too tired to keep my eyes open for more than a couple minutes.

Regret’s story is woven into the history of Honolulu and the Hawaiian islands. It is a story of family, love, loss,joy, sadness, fear, resignation, contentment, racial injustice, poverty, and success. Though Honolulu is a work of  historical fiction, much of the story is a carefully researched commentary on the relations among all the different cultures and peoples struggling to live alongside each other in the growing city. Though Regret doesn’t always realize it at the time, she is part of the important events which shape the city of Honolulu into the modern place of mingled races and traditions it has become. Instead of calling the city a “melting pot,” Regret refers to it as a “mixed plate,” which is a Hawaiian dish consisting of different types of food, often from different parts of the world, arranged to complement each other.

I highly recommend Honolulu and I’m looking forward to reading another of Brennert’s works, Palisades Park. If you read Honolulu, I hope you’ll let me know what you think of it.

Until next week,

Amy

The Top 10 Things I Learned Doing Research About Hawaii

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It’s on my website, the “About Me” section of my blog, and my Facebook and Twitter pages, but some of you may not know how much I love Hawaii. I first went there on my honeymoon in 1995 and it’s been an obsession ever since. My third book, which is still without an official title, comes out next April (you’re right– I said it would be March, but things change and, unfortunately, I have no control over that) and you may or may not know that it’s set on the Island of Hawaii (yes, just like the state’s name. It can be confusing, so sometimes the island is referred to as the “Big Island”). It’s the story of Kailani, a sous chef living in Washington, D.C., who moves back home to her native island of Hawaii to take on the job of personal chef to a family of four. Beyond that, I don’t want to give much away because the book is still in the edits stages.

But I did tons of research for the book, and I wanted to share with you some of my favorite fun facts.

1. There has never been a case of rabies in Hawaii.

Learned that the hard way.

My husband and I were eating dinner in a nice restaurant (open-air) when a cat wandered up to our table. He (she?) was beautiful, gray and white, and I reached down to pet him. You know what happened next. So we called the ER when we got back to our room to see if I should go in for rabies shots and we were told, to my great happiness, that Hawaii is rabies-free.

2. Many years ago, Hawaiians brought mongoose (the plural of this word is up in the air–some say mongeese, some say mongooses, neither sounds right to me) to the islands to rid the land of rats.

What they didn’t realize is that mongoose are diurnal. And since rats are nocturnal, the two species have never met.

3. The state fish is something is called the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Say that ten times fast, or even one time slowly.

4. The Big Island is approximately double the size of the other seven major islands combined.

5. The Big Island has eleven of the thirteen climate zones in the world. Yes, there is snow in Hawaii. People actually ski and snowboard there, but only on the mountaintops.

6. Hawaii is the only U.S. state that grows coffee.

7. There are only twelve letters in the Hawaiian alphabet and the words in the Hawaiian language are more fun to pronounce than any other in the world (this last part was my opinion, not actual searchable fact). See #3, above.

8. Hawaiian cowboys are called paniolos. Their culture is exciting and their history is diverse and they are responsible for some fabulous food and music that come from their mixed heritages.

9. The island of Moloka’i is where people with Hansen’s Disease, commonly known as leprosy, were sent forcibly until as recently as the 1960s. If you’re ever in search of a great read about this, pick up Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. It’s a beautifully-written, honest, and heartwrenching story about the leper colony on the island.

10. If you ever find a gecko indoors, don’t worry–they’re good luck!

Cockroaches, not so much.

11. BONUS! Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, two mountains located on the Island of Hawaii, are the two largest mountains in the world when measured from the sea floor.

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Got any fun facts from somewhere you’ve been? I’d love to hear about it!

Until next week,

Amy