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The Picture Bride: A Review

This book was received as an Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Stars: 5/5

The Picture Bride by Lee Geum-yi is a book in translation. It was first published in 2020, translated into English just last year. It follows the life of a girl named Willow into her adulthood and across the ocean as she makes the choice to become a picture bride.

In the course of the novel, Lee takes us through one girls journey from a remote village in China as a member of a shamed family to Hawaii, where the novel closes. The Picture Bride is set in the time right after Japan has gotten more than just a military foothold in China. And while Willow's village has remained fairly untouched, the signs of change are coming and with China under Japanese control, times are hard for everyone. And for Willow's family, one without a father or even an eldest son, the burden lies on her and her mother. Yet with a mother plagued with suicidal thoughts, her once noble family has fallen miserably. And so, she and her best friend (who has her own reasons) decide that it would be best to head to America, where they are told gold lines the streets and clothes can be plucked like fruit from the trees.

Yet, the road there is rough and things get sour when the arrive in Hawaii. Willow's husband seems to loathe her and she is separated from the friends she traveled with. Plus, she had to face racism in this new world and labor quite different from what she has known before.

Lee's voice is clear and pristine. She weaves in gorgeous language throughout the narrative that pull at heartstrings as we see the characters move from one struggle to the next. Some seemingly small, but others quite large. Moving, changing jobs, a husband who seems more distant by the day. Life isn't necessarily easy, but Willow can't deny that it is more than she could have hoped to have in her small village.

In the final part of the book, we get to finally see Willow from an outsiders point of view as Lee shows us the story from the eyes of Pearl, Willow's teenage daughter. Years have passed and as Pearl's questions are answered we see the beautiful family that Lee alluded to come to fruition.

Would I recommend this historical novel? Absolutely! I finished it within three days and couldn't put it down.

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