Historical fiction about Korean women who move to the USA to marry unseen husbands
Content warning: family violence, racism
I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the publisher.
“The Picture Bride” by Lee Geum-yi and translated by An Seonjae is a historical fiction novel about a young Korean woman called Willow whose relatively well-to-do family is thrown into poverty after her father is killed by the Japanese. When her best friend Hongju shamefully returns back to her family shortly after getting married, the two young women decide to move to Hawai’i to become picture brides: marrying men that they have only ever seen through a photograph. Willow and Hongju expect their husbands to be young and wealthy, and that they will have opportunities like Willow’s dream to return to school. However, when they arrive in Hawai’i, their prospective husbands are not at all what they expect and they find that they have been significantly misled about their new living situation. They will have to rely on each other and friendships with other women to make their way in this new country.
This is a heartfelt, well-researched novel about hope and disappointment. Lee writes convincingly about her characters who are pushed to become picture brides by the impact of Japanese rule over Korea and entrenched patriarchal ideas. Hawai’i was a really interesting setting for this book, and there were lots of layers of colonialism, racism and political tension, not just between Korean and Japanese people, but experienced by them in Hawai’i, itself colonised by the United States of America. There was plenty of character development, and I found the nuance of the relationships in this book really engaging. Willow’s friendships are impacted by religious beliefs, political allegiances, classism and racism yet it is the strength of her female friendships that carries her through difficult times.
I think that while may aspects of the book were interesting, the pacing wasn’t always even and there were some parts of the book that felt like they dragged a little more than others. I think with historical fiction it is always a challenge to decide what to include and what to exclude; what is essential to setting the scene and furthering the plot, and what is not.
A compelling story about a unique historical phenomenon.