Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mid-Review: Honolulu

I'm halfway through reading Alan Brennert's Honolulu, which Daney had picked for me in Tahoe, based, I'm guessing, on its lush cover.

"Regret"-turned-"Jin," a picture bride from Korea, is sent to Hawaii to marry a sugar cane worker in the 1920s.

The narration is stilted with short sentences and common beginnings, and too often, I am reminded that a man is writing Jin's life, that he doesn't nail the emotions and reactions of women, particularly Jin, who is drawn much too simply, especially after she leaves her home, and when she loses her child during a domestic dispute.

The plot moves forward, though. The reader wonders whether Jin will find a home, or work, or the love she deserves and seems to crave, and whether her young sister-in-law, Blossom, will join her in the islands.

What is striking is that Jin's joys and struggles haven't strayed much from the modern woman's; she works hard for her family, both in the fields and at home, and her work is never done. She plans out good, healthy meals, stretching her grocery budget and worrying about money.

On her "lunch break," Jin mingles with other women, who have come from all over the world, and between the canes, they share stories and ethnic foods. When Jin isn't working or cooking or washing her husband's clothes, she cherishes her time with friends. She carries the burden of being a wife, a sister, a daughter.
It's always interesting to me to see whether a man can write a woman's story. While the thread of Jin's physical and emotional sacrifice is evident, the depth of it is not. At this point, I'm just unsure what Jin is doing in Honolulu, and why. But I'm hoping it all comes together by the end.

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