Readers gather around author

The La Cañada Flintridge One City One Book committee held its 7th annual author event on Sunday, the rainy weather not being enough to deter readers and fans of this year's selected book: Alan Brennert's "Honolulu."

The event took place at the La Cañada Unified School District board room where Mark Salzman, whose book, "The Soloist, " was the committee's featured work last year, sat down with Brennert for an interview. The pair then took turns taking questions from the audience.

Each year, the committee members select one book as their collective favorite. An event is then held to discuss the book with the general public.

"I'm very honored, especially when I look back and see the previous selections," said Brennert. "I'm rubbing shoulders not just with Mark Salzman, but John Steinbeck and Geraldine Brooks. So I'm very, very flattered that the selection committee thought that 'Honolulu' belonged in their company."

In selecting "Honolulu" for this year's book, the One City One Book committee hoped to connect with La Cañada's Korean population. "Because we have a large Korean population in this town, when we came upon "Honolulu," the main character was Korean and so we hoped that we could open it directly to a community-get-together kind of thing," said Kathee Kenna, a committee member. On Saturday, the committee held a Korean cooking demonstration at the La Cañada public library.

Brennert, who first began his writing career at the age of 18, has experience in several genres, including television, short story, fantasy and science fiction.

"I was pretty lucky in that I sold my first short story when I was 18," he said. "I was in college and I wrote short stories and that sort of supplemented my income from working in a bookstore."

"Honolulu" finds Brennert once again returning to historical fiction, after 2004's "Moloka'i."

"I think it's really healthy for writers to explore different genres, different media, to see what they really enjoy doing. I could not have written 'Moloka'i' or 'Honolulu' 30 years ago when I first started. They're a culmination of everything that I've done."

The novel, which takes place in 1914, tells the story of a young Korean girl, Jin, a picture bride who leaves her native country and heads toward Hawaii, hoping for a better and more prosperous life. Written in first-person from the perspective of Jin, Brennert, a resident of Southern California, spent two years researching details for the book.

"When I first read about the names that Korean girls were given at birth — sometimes they weren't given any names at all — sometimes they were given names that reflected the parents' feelings about having a girl: anger, sorrow, sadness and regret," Brennert says. "And when I saw 'Regrettable,' I just thought, 'What must it be like to grow up with that constant reminder that you weren't wanted?' And that was my way into the character."

Brennert says both empathy and research allowed him to write in first-person from the perspective of Jin. "There's a point in which research will only get you so far before you really have to understand the characters within the context of the culture," he says. "I have this story in my head and the characters are talking to me, or at least I'm forming their dialogue and getting them to talk to me."

As for the future, Brennert is already working on his next novel, "Palisades Park," which he calls a love letter to his past.

"I found that I really enjoy writing historical fiction and doing the research. I do enjoy trying to figure out what people were like, how they were similar to us and how they were dissimilar to us. I'll probably write contemporary again occasionally, but right now I'm happy doing historicals and I'm going to stick with it for a while."

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World