Moloka’i, Brennert’s first historical fiction in this series, has clear, die-hard fans (myself amongst them), so I knew I had to read the sequel to find out what happens to Ruth, Rachel’s daughter. But boy, did Brennert deliver far more than just Ruth. This novel felt like a saga and absolutely captivated me. I was so intensely invested in the characters that the pages and chapters flew by. My husband and kids would pass by me reading and I don’t even recall what they might have said to me. I was *deep* into this book until the very last page.
Personally, this book felt as if it was written for me. As a hapa (Japanese mother, American father) with a second Hawaiian home in my heart, the pigdin and the Japanese words, the culture of filial piety and Hawaiian ohana, and the deep dedication to honor in both cultures felt more than familiar to me, it described my own upbringing. But what Brennert also brings is emotional enlightenment to the plight of Japanese Americans in the internment camps in California and on the West Coast during WWII. I knew embarrassingly little about this dark period in California’s history or about the pervasive anti-Japanese discrimination that harkens the fear and feelings of the Jim Crow era here in my own home state. Moreover, much of the Watanabe family’s history is in the farmlands of Northern California, also my hometown, so Brennert’s deft storytelling about the ever-resourceful, community-oriented and hard-working Japanese farming families around here felt familiar on dual planes. There’s so much to unpack in Daughter of Moloka’i, so much to reflect on, that it will take me more time to fully process. I am Nissei and Brennert accurately portrays the push and pull between the Issei generation and their offspring in a way I haven’t read elsewhere. I know I’ll be thinking of this book and remembering parts of it when I go visit my family in Japan later this Fall, when I visit our local Japanese strawberry grower this summer, when I chat with my dad (a WWII buff) about the Japanese internment, when I chat with my mom about how hard it was for her when she first immigrated here in the early 1960s. I’ll carry this book with me because in many ways, it is me, just a few decades later. Bravo Mr. Brennert! And thank you for writing a story, truly a family saga, that draws us in, makes us care so deeply about this family and breaks our hearts, but inspires us, for their “gaman.”