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The Ohana by C.W. Schutter: A Book Review

The Ohana
Author: C.W. Schutter
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: River Ranch Press
Release Date: November 13th, 2013
Pages: 282
Source: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: A child is dying. Her life depends on an explosive secret her grandmother has kept from their Ohana (family). As Mary Han wrestles with the toxic revelations, she must finally face the past she fought so hard to forget. 

     The Ohana is a riveting retrospective of the social, political, and economic history of Hawaii told through a historical family saga spanning three unforgettable generations. From the young Korean, Han Chaul Roong, who murders the hated Japanese invaders who kidnap his sister and force her into prostitution, to the Japanese aristocrat Kazuko who abandons her life of wealth and privilege to live in poverty with the servant she loves, the Asians came to work the brutal cane fields of Hawaii under Patrick O'Malley, a refugee from the Irish famine who sailed on a coffin ship to the gang-infested streets of Boston and ended up in Hawaii after the bloody Civil War. 

     The immigrants meet in the sugar cane fields of Kohala, Hawaii where a savage, unthinkable crime and a failed strike draw the three families together in an uneasy alliance. 

     Sean Duffy, Patrick's nephew, climbs out of Boston's slums to the top of Hawaiian society by way of a loveless marriage to the sister of the woman he loves. Kazuko's beautiful daughter Mariko lives as a social outcaste in the whorehouses of Honolulu. Chaul Roong's son, George Han, the ruthless mob boss of the first Korean syndicate, builds an empire while hiding his love for his brother's wife. 

     The colliding worlds of the immigrants and their American-born children and grandchildren come to a head when an entire generation protests the Vietnam war and revolt against traditional values. 

     Now the families must put aside their lifetime prejudices and grudges to save a young girl. Will their Ohanas survive the startling truth behind the lies? 

     My Review: This novel sets in Hawaii, and it expands three generations of an immigrant family. The story begins with a young girl dying, and there is nothing to save her except a secret that her grandmother, Mary, has kept from the family. As Mary ponders whether to tell her family the secret, she surfs through her memories of a past that she wants to forget, but she knows that she must face it in order to save her granddaughter.

     The novel begins with the story of three different people from different families and cultures. The first person is the story of a Korean warrior who is arrested by the Japanese army. He escapes to Hawaii where he works as a plantation farmer. The second person is an Irish immigrant, who fought in the Civil War and ends up running a ranch in Hawaii. The third person is a Japanese samurai woman, who flees to Hawaii with her lover to escape an advantageous and loveless marriage and she can marry for true love. While it seems that these three people from different backgrounds and race are so random, it becomes clear that they are intricately connected and they are part of a family.

     The story is told from both the male and female’s perspectives, but it is clear that the central character is Mary. Mary’s mother is a Japanese widow, and she has a lot of siblings. At first she seems to be hopeful and naive, but she is forced to give up her hopes and dreams in order to support her family. Her mother sends her off to work for a cruel family, and it is there that Mary loses her innocence. Mary then endures many trials in order to support herself and her family.

     Overall, this story beautifully captures the hardships of the immigrant families. The novel has issues with racism and class. It also deals with tradition versus modernity.The novel also shows the diversity of the culture and ethnicity in Hawaii. The story explores the true meaning of family and love. I recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in Hawaii. I also recommend this story to anyone who wants to read powerful stories about a strong family.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars





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