The Picture Bride

Forge. Oct. 2022. 320p. tr. from Korean by An Seonjae. ISBN 9781250808660. $26.99. F
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.
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