I am familiar with mail-order brides but have never heard of “picture brides.” That is what attracted me to this book.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, a large number of Korean men left for Hawaii, then a United States territory. They worked the sugar cane fields and became successful. Some even owned land, a dream of all Koreans. When it came time to take a wife, the men depended on matchmakers back home to help them find the perfect woman. The men would send a picture and a letter to the matchmaker. Basically, it’s 1918 Korea’s version of today’s dating apps.
“In 1918, three Korean picture brides sail to Hawaii, based only on photos of their husbands-to-be. Hongju, looking for real love, discovers her husband is 20 years older than his photo; Songhwa, escaping her home life, finds her husband is an old drunkard. Willow’s husband, Taewan, looks just like his photo. But the matchmaker lied when she said he was a landowner, and she could go to school.”
That is what hurt the most. Willow is intelligent and longs for an education. It was the only reason that she consented to the marriage. As the years go by, Willow dutifully cares for her husband, their children and his father.
As 1918 slides into 1919, Willow’s husband gets involved with the Korean Independence Movement. He is gone for years, leaving Willow to manage on her own. She does have her two friends, Songhwa and Hongiu, counsel as they struggle to survive.
I wish I had read the Author’s Notes and the Translator’s Notes first. It might have made a difference in reading this novel because I felt lost most of the time.
“The Picture Bride” receives 2 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.