A young Korean woman travels to Hawaii after being selected as a "picture bride" by one of the Korean workers on a Hawaiian pineapple plantation. A young woman, named “Regret” in Korean, secretly tries to learn to read and write by taking lessons without her parents' knowledge. She eventually finds out that she can travel to Hawaii by way of becoming a “picture bride” – Korean men in Hawaii looked for wives from their home country through an exchange of pictures. She and several other Korean teen girls select their husbands based on their photos and travel to Hawaii. They find upon arriving that they are bitterly disappointed almost entirely across the board – their husbands are not rich, and are much older than depicted in their photos. Regret (who renames herself Jin upon moving to Hawaii) finds that her husband is cruel and abusive, and wastes all of his paycheck on gambling – this forces Jin to run away from him to Honolulu, where she builds a new life for herself. Among the people she meets is a white prostitute who falls in love with a man on a cruise ship, only to find that racial discrimination at the time keeps them from being together. While Jin struggles to make ends meet, she finds a job in a factory and builds a community for herself through hard work and determination. Jin eventually meets and falls in love with another Korean man, but is initially unable to marry him because she is still married to her previous husband. Jin's abusive husband eventually tracks her down, but she is granted a divorce (a rarity for the time). Thus, Jin is able to rebuild her life in a more accepting, and certainly less hostile, environment with a new husband and a more supportive community than she had either in Korea or in the first plantation in Hawaii.
Best part of story, including ending:
I thought the descriptions of Hawaii during the time period (1910s to 1950s or so) was fascinating, and very detailed. It was also fascinating to learn about the lives of picture brides and how many Korean immigrants lived during that time in Hawaii. However, I will say that structurally, the story is a mess, and jumps around from topic to topic with little resolution. The main character, Jin, is also not very well-developed, and it's hard to really get a sense of how she feels at any given time as she simply states what's happening and doesn't expand much on her feelings.
Best scene in story:
In general, the description of Hawaii is fascinating. I also liked a scene that happened about a third of the way through the book, where Jin meets the white prostitute in Honolulu. This character is introduced in an interesting way -- some black Navy men are criticized for their race, but this woman treats them with kindness and respect -- and in a way that really expresses something about her character. I thought this scene was strong because it also contrasted with all the descriptions of Jin's life in Korea and on the plantation, where people were close-minded and cruel. This showed a turning point in the story, where acceptance would become more commonplace.
Opinion about the main character:
I thought Jin was something of a one-dimensional character. We don't get much of a sense of her feelings -- while the story is told from her perspective and in her voice, she doesn't really talk about how she feels in much depth. I found this frustrating, because this is what I really wanted to know most of the time.