‘Picture Bride’ examines trials of plantation-era Japanese in Hawaii
“Picture Bride” offers an accessible glimpse into Hawaii’s history, stories and events most locals have heard in passing but have never studied in depth.
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Legacy Isle Publishing ($19.95)
Haru, the Japanese protagonist of Mike Malaghan’s first novel, “Picture Bride,” arrives in the faraway exotic land of Honolulu with nothing but her dreams and a marriage to a husband she has not yet met. “Such a beautiful island … but a discontented paradise,” she muses.
The novel is an epic saga that spans decades and continents in its portrayal of life in plantation-era Hawaii. By becoming a picture bride sent to Hawaii Haru escapes the fate many late-19th-century Japanese girls faced of being sold into prostitution across various parts of Asia by their impoverished parents.
Haru arrives in Hawaii in 1909. Her husband, Kenji, accepts the position of head Buddhist priest for the plantation community of Waimea on the Big Island.
Meanwhile, Haru and her fellow picture brides become a tempering force to the gambling and alcoholism that run rampant among the unmarried plantation workers.
Haru encounters many obstacles in her new home but never backs down from any of them.
She interrupts a pagan ceremony where a Japanese priest seeks to sacrifice a dog to exorcise a demon from a child; manages an entire housing settlement camp of striking plantation workers; and faces the ruling Caucasian minority’s war against Japanese language schools, which they feared would spread imperialist Japanese values.
Throughout all this, she reconciles her relationship with her husband and raises her children in a Hawaii, where showing Japanese pride isn’t always accepted. As Haru muses about the language schools, “no matter how we change the curriculum or even if we closed our schools, we still look Asian, we will still be Japanese.” Even her daughter Hiromi asks when she is just a child, “Okasan,why do they hate us?”
“Picture Bride” offers an accessible glimpse into Hawaii’s history, stories and events most locals have heard in passing but have never studied in depth. Although the events in the book take place about a century ago, many echoes of those conflicts survive today.
Haru represents a people who have little choice but to make the best of what they have for themselves and the future of their families. As Haru herself says, “If you’re willing to work hard, save a little money, and accept that you might fail but try anyhow, the American Dream is open to all races. The banks like my money as much as the Dillinghams.” (sic)
Malaghan’s novel makes a convincing argument that we cannot talk about Hawaii without discussing race, a vital portion of Hawaii’s history and legacy.