Thoughts   Honolulu by Alan Brennert, St. Martin’s Griffin 2009, 368 pages?,Winner of Elle‘s Lettres 2009 Grand Prix for Fiction

MOTIVATION for READING:   For my real life book club, The Bookies, due November 29, 2010.   I downloaded to my iPad and read it on my annual trip to Kansas for Opening Day of Pheasant Hunting.   (I don’t go hunting; I read.)

FIRST SENTENCE:  “When I was a young child growing up in Korea, it was said that the image of the facing moon at daybreak, reflected in a pond or stream or even a well, resembled the speckled shell of a dragon’s egg.”

WHAT’s it ABOUT:    A fictionalized account of true events that happened in Honolulu between the first World Wars told through the eyes of a Korean woman who signed up to be a mail-order ‘picture’ bride.

WHAT’s GOOD:      It’s all good.   My attention was instantly caught and my interest never wavered.

WHAT’s NOT so GOOD:    It’s never quite ‘great’.    It was almost TOO full of true stuff!    About half-way, I was curious if some of the characters were ‘real’ and I was astonished to discover just how many TRUTHs were shoved into this book!     By the end, I was getting the feeling that the author had a long list of people and events he wanted to capture and couldn’t cut from the narrative.    In that regard, I can’t say it didn’t work.  But it got a bit tiresome?   And then this happens, then this happens…. Sequential and memoirish.

I am so out of practice here!   I can’t think at all of how/what I want to say next but it’s something along the lines of emotional-manipulation but not that strong…   I felt that as a reader, I was told how to feel.    Is manipulation the correct word?    Maybe because I didn’t disagree with the emotions that it didn’t feel forced on me exactly but it was obvious that I was supposed to not agree with how the white people treated the ‘locals’ of Hawaii.   Yea, I get that.      Just more saying it than showing it, perhaps…   And one more thing – the narrator was TOO likeable, if that makes any sense.   She seemed too good.    That doesn’t even make sense to me, but I stand by it.

FINAL THOUGHTS:   So, I liked it well enough.   It was a fast read; I enjoyed learning about things I didn’t know; I would recommend this to many people if they like historical fiction. But I can’t in good conscience claim it to be great literature.    But hey!  Who says I have to only read great literature?!

RATING:   Three stars.     I do want to read Molokai, Brennert’s other highly-rated historical fiction novel set in Hawaii.

A road need not be paved in gold to find treasure at its end.


Copyright © 2010. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

16 thoughts on “Honolulu

  1. I think your critiques made perfect sense! I just finished a Japanese historical novel that felt at times like it wanted to be straight-up nonfiction. It drove me a bit batty. 😉

  2. This time period is always one of my favorites and I haven’t really read anything set in Hawaii during this timeframe so this book intrigues me. I might have to check it out.

    1. Amused, oh good! I do understand why some think it a very good book! so do try it and tell us what you think. I only wish I could say I am immediately traveling to Honolulu – wouldn’t that be nice?!

    1. VioletCrush, yes – your rev of TBN was memorable. I don’t think I want to read that one.
      Don’t like the cover, huh? One cool thing about ebooks is that you really don’t have to look at the cover!

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  4. Hawaii! That alone makes me want to read it. But the narrative might drive me crazy. Maybe I should just read Michener. (Did I mention I’m going to Hawaii?)

  5. Care!! So here’s the deal.. my book club read Honolulu and discussed it last month. In 3.5 years of book club, this is the first time I did not finish a book. I got about halfway through and thought.. I just don’t care. I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care what happens. I tried to finish it up a few days before book club (after abandoning it a couple weeks before that) and would fall asleep every time. It wasn’t a bad book but I just had no empathy for anybody in it. It was a very strange feeling.

    I LOVED Molokai (absolutely loved little Rachel, the main character) and had very high expectations for Honolulu based on that. But this one was too long, too tedious, and yes, emotionally manipulative. And I know exactly what you mean about the main character, what’s her name, being too good. Nobody is that sweet and kind and always goooood.

    Ok, now I’m off to re-read your Ethan Frome review because I read it again, thanks to you and the stupid pickle dish that I couldn’t remember from years ago! I also recommended it to my book club for discussion and we’ll be talking about it in January- it will be our first classic. I’m hosting the meeting and I’m going to see if I can find a red pickle dish for that night (whatever a pickle dish is! I’m going to look on eBay).

    1. Hi Lisa!!! A DNF for you, really? I am curious how my club will receive this one. As a group, we haven’t been wowed by anything lately. I think we all liked The Book Thief. Even Room was only OK – crazy by how well-loved that one is here in blogosphereland.

  6. Maria

    I was not that intrigued becausee I felt it was just your usual story about an immigrant and her struggles. Most immigrants have had the same struggles but during different eras.There was a part of the book that had nothing to do with the main character and I thought it just went on and on. It’s a sweet story but nothing earth shattering happens.

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