Brennert's second novel (Moloka’i, 2003) explores Hawaii's “golden age” through the eyes of Korean immigrants.
In turn-of-the-century Korea, a young woman named Regret is bound to a veiled, subservient life by strict Confucian dogma. In a desire to escape her repressive society and gain an education, Regret signs up as a picture bride and is shipped off to Hawaii, where she finds herself hastily wed to Mr. Noh, a sugar-cane plantation worker with drinking and gambling problems. When Noh's actions become more than she can bear, Regret (now known as Jin) flees to Honolulu and begins a new life. Her tenacity and resourcefulness, coupled with the friendships she forms with her fellow Korean picture brides and new acquaintances, are the backbone of her survival. The struggles Jin and her fellow Koreans face—discrimination, poverty, abuse—are an emotional illustration of the seedy underside of the group of islands most people view as paradise. Brennert has an encyclopedic knowledge of Hawaiian history, which, while impressive, proves unfortunate when parts of the book begin to read like an encyclopedia. While the cultural tidbits and historical references are interesting, they are not blended seamlessly into the narrative. Luckily, Jin is an admirable character and an apt storyteller, and the arc of her life provides a fascinating look at an often untold and decidedly unglamorous side of 20th-century Hawaii. It’s intriguing and visceral enough to pull readers through the sandstorm of factual information. As Jin's new family multiplies, she finds closure with relatives still living in Korea and, in a sentimental turn, discovers she has lived the American Dream.
An overly informative but poignant, colorful story.