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The Picture Bride

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The Picture Bride is a touching and beautifully written historical fiction of a picture bride named Willow. She travels, with 2 other women from her region, to Hawaii with promises of a much better life and a proposal from a Korean man in 1918. Willow soon learns that many of the details that she was told, by the matchmaker, of her husband's circumstances were not true, including his intention to marry her.

As Willow adjusts to her new country and environment she is determined to make the best of the life she has been dealt. She is resourceful and resilient. Willow reconnects with her 2 friends that she traveled with to the USA. She builds a family and life that she proudly protects.

With the escalation of the Korean independence, her husband leaves for 10 years to devote his energy to the cause, leaving Willow on her own to raise and support their children. Willow makes sacrifices to financially support her family and to provide her children with a chance to realize their dreams.

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As a huge lover of historical fiction, I was very interested to read this story.

Willow, a young women from a poor family in Korea, is given the option by the local matchmaker to marry a man in Hawaii via picture. When Willow first sees the photo of her perspective husband Taewan, she is excited. Leaving her family behind and going to a new land with other picture brides, Willow moves to Hawaii to marry her husband and look for a better life. Once there, Willow receives a cold husband and a land different from what she was promised. However, determined to make the most of her new life, Willow pushes forward, embracing the friends she can make and trying to create a relationship with her husband.

This story was something beyond anything I've ever read. There is not enough Korean historical fiction on the American market and this is proof positive to me that there needs to be more. I learned SO much from Willow's story about Korea, Koreans, Hawaii, and more from this time period and it was invaluable look into this world.

I felt the characterization of everyone in the story was the strongest point. Willow and the big characters around her were very defined and kept the story interesting and moving.

Overall, I truly enjoyed this story and hope the author writes more in the future.

Thank you for the ARC.

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Although the premise and storyline incorporated interesting and new ideas, the execution lacked fully formed characters and good pacing. I also found the writing to be lackluster and make it difficult to get through. Not my favorite, but still glad I read it and learned something new about this culture that I wasn’t fully aware of!

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Hawaii is the place to which Willow and two friends from her village are packed off to live out the rest of their lives. Their mothers sacrifice contact with their daughters rather than shackle them to Korea-occupied-by-Japan. Those two warring foes have slaughtered their families, and these mothers have found a way out for their girls. . . albeit a painful one.

The author fills gaps for a reader with Korea's history, pride, beauty and humiliations by territorial enemies. She reminds a reader gently that every battlefield was once at peace, a homefield and beloved. Willow, Hongju and Songhwa each had to fight for their place in the Paradise known as Hawaii.

A read by which my continued interest in Korea's history and people gained ground.

*A sincere thank you to Lee Geum-yi, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, and NetGalley for an ARC to read and independently review.* #ThePictureBride #NetGalley

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I have a lot of feelings after reading this book. This slice of life is an emotionally gripping tale about Korean Picture Brides. If you are like me, you've heard about Chinese Paper Brides. This is the story about three Korean women who became picture brides. It's not an easy story, but one of bravery, determination, and family.

I do wish the translator had made some different choices. The biggest one being on what to call Korea and Koreans. This story takes place after Japan has invaded and is occupying the country. It is no longer Joseon (Chosun), but the people would surely have still called it that. Referring to it as Korea may have been simpler, but I do wish it has been Joseon.

I did spend some time checking out the real people (Rhee and Park) to get some context about the division in the community, so I appreciated how that was shown.

The ending was a little strange feeling, switching to first person for Pearl. Yet, I feel it sets the stage for the next chapter in the life of the pictures brides, while also bringing closure to this story.

Over all, a well done story.

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3.5 rounded to 4.

Willow is the only daughter of a widowed mother with two younger brothers in pre-independence Korea. A matchmaker offers her a “picture marriage” to a man in Hawaii with a promise of plenty and the chance of having an education. When Willlow gets to Hawaii she discovers her husband is a plantation worker who never wanted to marry in the first place and instead of an education, her only responsibility it to care for her aging father-in-law.

Willows story is told in the context of the Korean independence movement and the division that occurs in the community over how to achieve independence. I enjoyed the first part of this novel, learning about the picture brides and their new lives in Hawaii. I was disappointed in the end, it felt rushed and the connection to what was happening in Korea was lost. The end was not satisfying although the writing was beautiful.

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I struggled with this one, and I have to just accept that historical fiction isn’t my mood anymore.

This is not a problem with the story so much as a problem with me as the reader.

I really enjoyed all the insights into Korean and Hawaiian culture all those years ago, and I learned many things I didn’t already know! That said I found myself not being able to stay focused on reading it.

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In 1918, 3 young women, picture brides from a very poor village in occupied Korea, travel to Hawaii to meet their new, unseen husbands (translated by An Seonjae).

There is nothing easy about any of their lives, but over the years they are able to help each other and become very good friends as they work, have children and manage households all at the same time.

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An interesting historical time period to read about. A tale of rising above trying circumstances with grit and determination.

At times seemed disjointed, as if trying to convert actual history into fiction. However, while inspired by actual events, this is fiction of the historical variety, not fiction based on a true account.
Twenty-three used of the racial slur "haole" for those with pale skin, as opposed to native Hawaiians or those of Asian descent, which I found hugely disappointing.
The last section is told from the point of view of Willow's daughter, making this feel less like The Picture Bride and more like a generational saga.

Worth reading. You'll learn a fair bit about Korea and Hawaii 100 years ago.

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I found this novel sweepingly brave and resilient. It was my first time reading this author and I enjoyed her writing style, very rich in storytelling.

The concept of 'picture bride' was intriguing and I was expecting it to read more like a YA romance story but it surprised me with its depth. It explored the political challenges of Korea vs Japan and its impact of the Korean community in Hawaii which I found educating. The themes of the power of friendship, hardships of Motherhood, and the sense of duty rang very strong. The little tableaus of life were detailed and pulled you in emotionally.

I wish there was a tad more reveal of the love story but it turned out to be something much stronger than a love story and a self journey. I would definitely look for more titles written by this author!

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"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.

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This book was just an amazing read, that taught me more about the practice of "picture brides" a concept that I knew very little about before reading this book. This book was very well written, and definitely took into account the hopes and dreams of the (basically) child brides that were being sent from Korea, often to husbands that looked nothing like their real pictures. Most of these brides did not even have enough money to return to Korea if things didn't go as planned, and so they were stuck with husbands that were nothing like they were thinking they were going to have. (either because they were older than they said, or that they just were a completely different person.) This book really showed the strength that all of these women had, being thrown into an unknown situation, not realizing the hardships that they were going to face.

Brilliant writing and story!

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Willow, Hongju and Songwa, three young women from a very poor village in occupied Korea, travel to Hawaii to meet their new husbands. The novel centers on Willow, and it looks like she is going to be the lucky one. Her husband sent a picture that actually looks like him. The husbands of the other two sent pictures of themselves as young men, and they are definitely no longer young!

There is nothing easy about any of their lives, but over the years they are able to help each other and become very good friends as they work, have children and manage households all at the same time.

This is not only a story about women striving for and achieving independence, but also about what was happening politically in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century. Many felt they could fight the occupiers better from Hawaii and China. Until 1905, 72,000 Koreans immigrated to Hawaii, and over 1000 picture brides followed. As the author says, “it must have been a great adventure for them … to leave their family, home, and country [and have] to adjust to an unfamiliar language and environment.”

The author has done a wonderful job in giving us a feeling for all of this.
The novel was first published in Korea in 2020. It is well translated, and I would recommend reading the Translator’s Note soon after starting the story. It is very helpful.

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In 1918, Willow, Hongju, and Songhwa travel from their home in Korea to Hawaii as picture brides with the dream of marrying, continuing their education, and prospering in America. Ultimately, this did not happen and they were in fact married off to men many years their senior with no prospect of education.

This story is rich in friendship, self determination, and beating the odds. These three women had a strong bond and their stories shed light on life in Hawaii during Korea’s fight for independence, WW I, and WW II.

Sincere thanks to NetGalley and Forge Books for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

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I found this book so engaging and a subject I had not read much about. I thought the author did a good job of presenting this story and made me want to read more of the history of picture brides. I'm hoping my book discussion book picks this as a title for next year.

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I have been to Hawaii and was aware of the large Japanese population, but I wasn't aware of the Korean connection as well. Apparently in the early 1900s, Korean men went to work in Hawaii but there was a shortage of women for them to marry. Enter The Picture Brides, much like a "mail order bride" meets matchmaker. This story follows Willow as she leaves Korea to marry as a picture bride. Unfortunately while there were interesting parts, this book just did not hold my attention. It felt both long winded and like it contained a ton of information with not much explanation.

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This is an interesting story about
a little known historical phenomenon. It is well translated.
It is well-paced until the last
chapter where it suddenly jumps forward many years, introduces new characters, questions parentage, and abruptly ends. It seems like the second half of the book is missing. Did the printer run out of paper? Was there a weight limit?

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When books serve educational as well as entertainment purposes, they are the most interesting to me. The Picture Bride tells the story of young Korean women, in the early 1900’s, who left the Japanese controlled Korea for Hawaii and the promise of trees with shoes and clothes growing on them. The young women were sent pictures of their prospective Korean grooms, and in almost every instance, the reality was they were marrying men much older who misrepresented their lives. Willow, Hongju and Songhwa come from the same village. The three remain close as they navigate life in Hawaii, enduring hardships and facing challenges, including the growing divisiveness in the Korean community over the independence movement. I highly recommend this book. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

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In the early 1900s, a peddler traveled from village to village, selling household wares and personal items to Korean women. This peddler showed the young women photographs of promising young Korean men who lived in Hawaii and sought wives. The peddler promised the young women they would lead better lives if they moved to the US and married these men.

Willow faced a tough decision. She could agree to travel to Hawaii and marry the Korean landowner who wanted a wife. In his photo, the man looked handsome, youthful, and prosperous. Although she could attend school in her new country, she may never see her family again. But a picture marriage, Willow decided, would be better than a life of poverty.

Little did she know…

I was unfamiliar with picture marriages, thought the novel was an interesting premise, and learned much about the concept and Korean culture. However, the portion of the story about Willow’s husband’s involvement with the Korean independence movement dragged for me. The details caused the story to lose its flow, and I skimmed over those parts.

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I have heard before of the traditional marriage arrangements between families through a go-between by only producing pictures of photos of the prospective bride or groom as i come from Asian culture and this used to be a common practise especially in the olden days (but still being in practise even today!).

However,i have not known about the practise among the Koreans and the Japanese in the year 1900's. Therefore, this book did exactly that that is it provides a glimpse of the lives of the Korean picture brides in Hawaii during that era.

The story begin with a Korean woman named Willow where one day a peddler from Pusan known as the 'Pusan Ajimae' (Ajimae is a term used to address an older woman as in an aunty though the person may not actually be related to you as a sign of respect).came into her village by bringing in the news about some Korean men in Hawaii are looking for future brides for marriage. In the previous years, Korean and Japanese men were said to have moved out from their villages and migrated to Hawaii for the economic reasons (making a living and finding a better life and opportunities which they did not get from their hometowns). After years of struggling with hardwork working on the plantations on the island, the men finally thought of finding some wives/companions for themselves,so through the help of a go-between, they tried to find some potential wives by sending home their own pictures/photos.

The go-between's role later on would be to bring around the photos of the grooms searching from a village to a village while bringing news and promoting about the groom to a household in those visited villages, just like how the Pusan Ajimae is doing in this story where while selling her things, she is also bringing the news about the marriage and promoting about the groom at the same time with the hope of securing a potential bride.

This is what exactly happened in the story where Willow and her good friend from her village named Honju later on secured a husband for themselves when the Pusan Ajimae came into their village bringing news about the marriage. Of course while promoting, the Pusan Ajimae tend to glamorised or sugarcoated when describing the qualities and features of the grooms while at the same time both girls were fed with hopes of living a better life and opportunities where it is said that life in Hawaii is so good that even money grows on trees!.

Both girls had different motives of agreeing to be picture brides, for Willow she yearns to seek an education for herself (which surprisingly and to my dismay she never did until the end in the story even after her life gets better later on when she moved to the island to meet with her potential husband!.) and as for Honju she just wants to escape her hard lives and filial duties in the village by marrying a rich and handsome husband!.

So, this book later on showcases what happened to the girls when they moved to the island to live with their future husbands while at the same time portraying the problems encountering the prospective brides upon their meeting with their potential husbands where every wonderful descriptions by the go-between about the potential husbands turned out to be too good to be true or fabrications or lies!. The husbands were neither rich nor handsome!.

Instead,each of the brides landed with having to face their own problems with their potential husbands later on!. (for Willow her husband doesn't even want to marry her, for Honju her husband is a slacker and isn't rich! for one of their friends, Songhwa whom they met while onboard the ship to the island, her husband is too old! (the girls later on made some new friends amongst the other picture brides whom they met on board their ship to the island).

So, this story also provides a glimpse into the lives of these picture brides in facing their own personal problems with their husbands and at the same time trying to survive living in an unfamiliar place with a culture and way of life that is foreign to them, away from their own families. This new life forces them to adopt and adapt with the new environment and culture; starting from changing the way they dress to the kinds of work/jobs they had to do to survive.

We will get to learn more about the good and the bad, the happiness and sadness and the hardships and struggles faced by these women as they bonded with each other and how they overcome their own problems. And yes this is a story of friendship as well as betrayal where the women loyalties and trust towards each other were tested in some point over the differences in political views and stance as this story took place during a critically sensitive and turbulent times where Korea is under the colonization of Japan and the Koreans were striving hard to gain their independence from Japan. It is a very sensitive and fragile period even for the wives/the women when their friendships been tested and trusts compromised all because of their different political parties and stance to the point of going to a separate church as each church supports a different political party (yes, that's how divided and polarised they are at that time). The women even went in to separate saloons because of their differences in taking a political stance/sides/support!.

Another aspect that i love about this story is how the women especially Willow (since she is the main character so more focus is given to her in the story and everything is looked based upon her own perspectives!) resiliently trying to build up on their own lives during the absence of their husbands (who either went to war or go training in another country for their independence movement or simply non-existence just like Songhwa's husband who is neglecting and abusing her). To me, only Willow's character stands out the most in this part (of being resilience and hardworking) as she later on switched from working for other people (at the plantations or doing laundries) to working on her own when she set up her own shop,first selling shoes later on diversified to selling Korean embroideries!.Later on, she set up her own laundry service which she teamed up with her friends, Honju and Songhwa and some other lady friends she made. I love how enterprising and smart she is!.

Ok, now the parts that i disliked or did not enjoy. Honestly, the story seem flat,boring,slow and repetitive at times. I find the characters' one dimensional and lack of emotions. The characters lacked depth. And everything happens and switches too fast without proper explanations or details, like poof! moving on to the next scene. Especially in the second part after Willow's daughter, Pearl was introduced. Then suddenly without any explanations/details, the timeline jumps up to a few years later when Pearl already grew up into a young lady (when before that she was only a baby!).

I also notices something's off with the translations and some errors (typo and grammatical) and find some of the sentences did not make sense or sounds weird.

Either way, these blunders did not hinder me from finishing and enjoying this story as thank God it is a fast moving and a short story (too fast at times haha!) otherwise i am afraid of hitting the snooze button!. To me it is exciting to read the story about these women/picture brides despite lacking of depths of their characters and emotions and seeming one-dimensional as i learn something i never knew before about the picture brides and the lives and experiences of the Korean immigrants living in a foreign country (except for the novel Pachinko which i read previously that talks about the lives of the Koreans living in Japan under the Japanese colonization and discriminations). So, this book brought a new perspective to me in that area.

I rated this book a 4🌟 out of 5.

Thank you the publisher and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this e-ARC copy!.

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