Epeolatry Book Review: The Picture Bride by Lee Geum-yi
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Title: The Picture Bride
Author: Lee Geum-yi; Translator: An Seonjae
Publisher: Forge Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: 11th October, 2022
Synopsis: “Your husband is a landowner,” they told her.
“Food and clothing is so plentiful, it grows on trees.”
“You will be able to go to school.”
Of the three lies the matchmaker told Willow before she left home as a picture bride in 1918, the third hurt the most. Never one to be deterred, Willow does all that she can to make the best of her unexpected circumstance. But it isn’t long before her dreams for this new life are shattered, first by a husband who never wanted to marry her in the first place, and then by the escalation of the Korean independence movements, unified in goal, but divergent in action, which threaten to split the Hawaiian Korean community and divide Willow’s family and friends.
Braving the rough waters of these tumultuous years, Willow forges ahead, creating new dreams through her own blood, sweat, and tears; working tirelessly toward a better life for her family and loved ones.
Before reading this book, I did not know what a “picture bride” was. When Korean and Japanese men were working in Hawaii, they longed for wives from their homeland, and so came a system where people chose their spouses based on a handful of information and a photograph. Unfortunately, a lot of these men used old pictures of themselves and lied about their ages to secure younger brides.
Fortunately for Willow, her husband remained true to his photograph. But, she didn’t know her marriage was arranged by his father, nor that her husband-to-be, Taewan, didn’t even want to marry her. She gave up everything she knew to move across the world for a better life that didn’t exist. But Willow is a strong, determined woman and she fought tirelessly to carve out a good life for herself and her children, even if it wasn’t the one she originally dreamed of.
I enjoy historical fiction, especially when it introduces me to lives and worlds different than my experiences. Picture Bride is engaging and enjoyable. Even though my life is nothing like Willow’s, aspects of her life resonated with me. Her devotion to her friends, love for her family, and the losses she faces are universal.
One drawback of the book—toward the end, a jarring time jump and point of view shift ripped me right out of the story. The tactic provides an epilogue of sorts, but I would have been content to continue through smaller time jumps from Willow’s perspective rather than such an abrupt change.
Overall, I recommend Picture Bride as an fetching, light read to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or who even has a passing interest in this time period.
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Melody lives in Ontario, Canada and writes short, dark fiction. She has been published in several anthologies and online publications. In university, she studied Ancient Greek and Roman Studies and often infuses her work with elements of Greek mythology. She also loves reading, embroidery, and martial arts.