Review by Booklist Review
Geum-yi delivers a story of three Korean picture brides, young women who only have seen a photograph of the men they are to marry. Leaving their homes in Korea, the women take a journey across the sea to Hawaii, where their husbands-to-be have been working. Some of the men are farmers, some are believed to be landowners, and others to be businessmen. But things are not always what they seem. Hong-ju's husband is decades older than his photo, Song-hwa's husband appears to be a drunk, and Willow's husband is not that easy to read. Following Willow's story, readers see her struggles with coming to a new place, getting to know a husband who never meant to marry, and raising children with an absent father who is fighting for his country. Willow came to Hawaii with dreams of getting a formal education. What she learns is that life anywhere can be a struggle, and she alone has to make a life for her family. Written with great historical detail about Korean immigrants in Hawaii, Geum-yi's beautiful novel weaves an extraordinary tale.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Lee's heartfelt if plodding English-language debut revolves around a trio of Korean mail-order brides in Hawaii. Willow,17, agrees to move from Korea to Hawaii in 1917 for marriage, believing she'll get to attend school. She arrives in Hawaii with fellow picture bride Hongju, a young widow and friend; and Songwha, the daughter of an outcast. Willow is relieved that her fiance So Taewan is still a young man, as opposed to her friends' older grooms, but is hurt by Taewan's coldness and the realization she will have to work hard on his plantation. Only after she confronts him about his previous love for another woman does their relationship begin to thaw, and they have a son. Willow offers solace and support to her friends amid their unhappy marriages, helping Songwha stand up to her abusive husband and keeping in touch with Hongju after she moves to a different island. When Taewan travels to China to fight the Japanese, Willow supports the family and navigates her uncertain place in the divided Korean community. After a strong first act exploring Willow's curdled romantic expectations, Lee slips into a muddled series of episodes without real climax, culminating with an unnecessary twist. It's an engaging picture of a time and a place, but little more than that. (Oct.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
This work of historical fiction is Korean novelist Lee's first book to be translated into English. In the 1910s, many Korean men moved to Hawai'i for work and placed advertisements with matchmakers to find brides from their native country. In 1918, 19-year-old Willow, eager to leave her remote Korean village and receive an education, submits her picture to one such matchmaker. She then travels to Hawai'i with two fellow picture brides: her dynamic, fearless friend Hongju and the deeply troubled shaman Songhwa. There Willow meets her soon-to-be husband (a relatively young man, unlike the many prospective grooms who lied about their ages and submitted years-old pictures to lure young picture brides from Korea), and they eventually have a son, before her husband joins the movement to gain Korea's independence from Japan. In lyrical and poetic prose (the novel has chapter titles like "The Woman in the Mirror. The Man in the Picture"), Willow bonds with Hongju and Songhwa while working and enduring prejudice in Hawai'i. The final section focuses on Songhwa's daughter, fiercely independent Pearl, who has been raised by Willow and dreams of being a dancer. Lee's novel includes an author's note on its origin. VERDICT Historical fiction buffs and readers interested in little-known history will enjoy.--Susan G. Baird
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.