Korean picture brides in Hawaii

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“The Picture Bride” by Lee Geum-yi, translated by An Seonjae. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Genre: Historical Fiction. Location: Korea & Hawaii. Time: 1918-1941.

In 1918, 3 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.

Living on an Oahu sugarcane plantation, Willow learns Taewan didn’t want to marry her, but she dutifully takes care of him and his elderly father Mr. So. Her opinions grow and change as she moves from her tiny village to Kahuku, to Honolulu, and finally to Koko Beach. By 1919, Taewan is caught up in the Korean Independence Movement, spending years away. The 3 picture brides slide in and out of each other’s lives as they struggle to survive. The narrative makes an abrupt shift to first person in 1941 when Willow’s daughter Pearl tells her story.

The author emphasizes the power of friendships to build others up and overcome challenges. She explains Korean customs, such as naming children and class differences, by describing characters’ family histories.

Don’t expect this book to read quite like Western literature. The translated book reflects Lee Geum-yi’s Korean literature and cultural norms with refined expressions of emotions more prominent than action. Western readers may consider descriptions of emotions to be brief. Korean speakers/readers may absorb more emotion from the culturally-specific style. There is some dissonance because Willow’s name is an English translation while most other names are Korean.

All in all, it’s a well-written, fascinating look at a specific way of life, and it’s 4 Aloha stars from me. 🌵📚💁🏼‍♀️. Thank you to BookishFirst and Forge Books, a Tom Doherty Associates Book, for an early copy. Publishes 8/29/2022.