Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was chosen by my book club and I’m so very glad it was. I don’t know if I ever would’ve come across it otherwise and it quickly became one of my favorite books.
When I began reading, I was immediately pulled in because of Brennert’s writing style and because of the main character, Rachel. Brennert has a rich way of weaving his words into a great attention-keeping story and I couldn’t put the book down. As for Rachel, she's just sweet and adorable! If I remember correctly, she was seven years old when the book began. I really enjoyed how as a reader, I got to watch her grow up. Throughout the novel, I was always rooting for Rachel’s escape from the island of Moloka'i. Does she ever get away? Well, I’d spoil the story if I told you so you’ll just have to read it for yourself.
Hmmm… let me back up… if you aren’t familiar with Moloka’i, it’s a Hawaiian island that was used as a quarantine colony for those with Hansen’s disease (leprosy). Rachel is exiled to Kalaupapa, the leprosy containment community on the island of Moloka’i and the book follows her journey. Filled with a rich historical background, Rachel lives on Moloka’i through a period of great change. From Hawaii being absorbed by the United States, the cure of Hansen’s Disease, the beginning of aviation and automobiles, the book is filled with actual historical facts that bring not just the characters, but the island itself to life.
Unlike most novels I read, I was quite fond of many of the characters. Rachel, of course. Then there is Sister Catherine, a nun who lived on the island and took care of the female children. She was a woman with such strength and compassion, yet she was full of fears and doubts which endeared her to me. She was such a real and down to earth character. Haleola, also a Hansen’s patient, took a sort of mother-role over Rachel. In a large way, she made up for Rachel being taken away from her mother and showed Rachel nothing less than pure love and devotion. Even Rachel's papa who never left or forgot her. A sailor on a steamer boat, he never stopped sending her things from the various countries he traveled to and visited her whenever he could. Dr. Goodhue was another person I was fond of. He was a really good doctor with a genuine care for the people of Moloka'i. Even the Territorial Governor (a real person), Lawrence Judd, was someone I was fond of as he was true to his words to reform Kalaupapa.
Before reading this book, I had no knowledge of Moloka'i and the separate island community where people were exiled to. It was such an ignorant way for the people with Hansen’s to be treated (pun may or may not be intended!). Families were literally torn apart, the reputation of the family completely destroyed. However, through the turmoil and loss, much was also gained. The people living on the island welcomed newcomers and one another with open arms. Instead of being sent there to await their deaths, together they triumphed, forming new families and new lives.
A very touching novel, this book let us into the lives of the people of Moloka'i and when it ended, I was sad. It was like saying goodbye to good friends. Highly, highly recommended.
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