Book selection features love, joy, bitterness

The La Cañada Flintridge One City One Book Committee is transporting readers to the Hawaiian Islands with this year's book selection, "Honolulu," the tale of a Korean mail-order bride who, after escaping a bitter marriage, learns to independently navigate her adopted city.

"Honolulu" author Alan Brennert will be the featured guest at the One City One Book discussion, scheduled for Oct.17 at 2:30 p.m. at the La Cañada Unified School District headquarters, 4400 Cornishon Ave.

"["Honolulu"] got great reviews," said Mark Totten, manager of the La Cañada Flintridge Library. "[Brennert] is thrilled that we chose his book and is happily coming to La Cañada Flintridge."

The One City One Book Committee, which has swelled to include more than a dozen members since its inception eight years ago, is looking to produce another blockbuster event. Last year's discussion featured Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez and his non-fiction work, "The Soloist," and attracted a standing-room-only crowd.

"I think it has been a growing success because the people find the programs interesting," said Kay Bahrami, director of the One City One Book Committee. "We developed a following; there are a number of people who have [attended the programs] every year."

The book discussion will be proceeded by a Korean cooking demonstration hosted by a chef from the Culinary Institute of Korea on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at the La Cañada Flintridge Library.

Founded in 2002 by then-Mayor Laura Olhasso, One City One Book promotes literature and reading by selecting a single book and inviting residents to participate in a book discussion. In addition to "The Soloist," past selections have included "The Shadow Catcher," by Mariane Wiggins, and "Gonzalez & Daughter Trucking Co.," by Maria Ampara Escandon.

The book vetting process begins in January, Bahrami said, when each committee member makes two or three suggestions. There are multiple active book clubs in La Cañada, Bahrami said, and the committee takes input from these groups as well. Traditionally, authors from Southern California move to the top of the list because it is easier to arrange for them to appear at the book discussion.

"It is an interesting way to promote a book, to get people to read something that they might not [otherwise] pick up and read," Bahrami said.

Brennert, who has lived in Southern California since 1973, is an accomplished writer whose credits include short stories, teleplays, screenplays and a stage musical. His breakout novel, "Moloka'i," won praise from critics and climbed onto the National Bestseller list.

"Honolulu" is the story of Jin, a Korean mail-order bride who travels to Hawaii in 1914 with hopes of love and happiness. But her intended turns out to be a poor, beleaguered laborer who turns his bitterness on his bride. Jin struggles to escape the marriage and create a new life in her adopted homeland.

It took two years of painstaking research and writing to complete the book, Brennert said. He traveled from his home in Sherman Oaks to Honolulu, where he pored over historic photos, maps and business directories so he could accurately recreate the city in his book. He also researched the lives of poor Korean women in the early 20th Century.

At the time, Korean baby girls were so unwelcome that many times parents didn't even bother to name them, Brennert said. Sometimes they called them by nicknames that expressed how the parents felt about having a girl, such as "angry" and "regrettable."

"I could see right away why these real-life women were brave enough to leave everything they knew, to travel to Hawaii to marry men they had never met before," Brennert said.

Book discussions, such as the one scheduled for next month, allow for a three-way dialogue that features the author, readers and the novel itself, Brennert said.

"I really enjoy the give and take, I enjoy talking to book clubs," Brennert said. "I find that at almost everyone somebody asks me a question that I would never have thought of."

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