Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Book Reviews: A Two-fer

MOLOKA’I by Alan Brennert. $13.95 in paperback

This compelling novel follows the life of Rachel Kalama from her girlhood on Oahu through her lifelong exile at the leper colony on Moloka’i, and consequently it follows the history of Hawai’i itself from the US’s unconstitutional overthrow of the monarchy through the attack on Pearl Harbor. The reader feels the same anguish, fear, and isolation as Rachel faces one hardship after another, with a heartwarming reunion with her lost family as a final reward for her hard-earned self-reliance.

HONOLULU by Alan Brennert $24.95 in hardcover

Like his previous book Moloka’i, Brennert’s new novel takes a sweeping and probing look at a little-known period of US history. Jin is a young Korean “picture bride” who, in 1915, risks everything to leave her homeland for Hawai’i in order to marry a man she has never met. When his bitterness and cruelty drive her to run away, she makes her way to Honolulu, finding support and friendship in the most unlikely sources. Brennert takes a hard look at the hardships of being a woman in the early 20th century and at the racism that almost destroyed what is now one of the most thriving multicultural metropolises in the world.

Both books are satisfying reads, but what sets them apart is Brennert’s ability to plumb the mysteries of the human heart, exploring the heights and the depths of our emotional spectrum. What I particularly love is the fine balance he creates between hope and despair without seeming melodramatic. Fans of The Secret Life of Bees, Ellen Foster, or The Kite Runner (or anybody who is drawn to stories of overcoming social, cultural, or religious constrictions) will find much to appreciate in his novels.

Emily Crowe

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