Interesting story, not the best writing

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Willow, a young Korean girl, leaves home for Hawaii to marry a man she has only seen in a picture. She arrives in Hawaii, along with two friends who are also “picture brides” to find that her new husband did not want to marry her and that life is not as easy and plentiful in this new land as she was promised. Willow puts her head down and works relentlessly to build a happy marriage and a bright future for her children against the backdrop of the Korean independence movement.

I was interested in this book after learning about picture brides from Julie Otsuka’s brilliant Buddha in the Attic. I wanted to learn more about the practice and what life was like for picture brides who travelled from Asian countries to marry men they’d only seen pictures of. While this historical practice can make for moving stories, I struggled through some parts of this book.

The writing in this book was very simplistic. The subject matter was clearly adult but the writing felt like middle grade, very straight forward and plain. Perhaps the author’s personality and nuance was lost in translation. I also found myself confused about the political aspects discussed in relation to the Korean independence movement. It took some time and concentration to get the characters straight, but this is mostly my own problem, being unfamiliar with Korean names.

The last twenty percent, when we travel forward to Willow’s 19-year-old daughter’s perspective, was by far the most engaging part of the book. I would have liked if more time was spent with her.

The narration was decent, I felt like the narrator wasn’t given much to work with in relation to vocabulary and sentence structure. Overall, it was an interesting story that isn’t particularly well-executed…at least when translated into English.