Recent Read: Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wow, it has been forever since I've shared a book with you all. Earlier in the summer, I didn't have (or didn't make) all that much time to read. But on my 101 in 1001 list, I set a goal to read at least one book a month. I've been putting more effort into setting aside time for reading, and it certainly helps when I've got a great book! In fact, I'm actually a bit behind, as this was my August read, and I've already finished my September one as well!


Moloka'i by Alan Brennert first caught my interest simply because of its subject matter. After spending our honeymoon in Hawaii, I would do just about anything to be "taken back" there, whether it's through watching movies or reading books. Much of the history that is discussed in the book, we learned about during our time on the islands, and it was wonderful to read a book that incorporates the fascinating history of Hawaii, starting back in the late 1800s and taking the reader through 1970.

Moloka'i is the story of Rachel Kalama, who, at the age of 7, is diagnosed with leprosy and taken from her family. Within a year, she ends up at Kalaupapa, a leprosy colony founded by Father Damien. At the time, people who had leprosy were sent to Kalaupapa on Moloka'i to essentially quarantine them, separating people from their families indefinitely.

On Moloka'i, the only person Rachel knows is her Uncle Pono, who was also diagnosed with leprosy. Unfortunately, she is not allowed to live with him, and is basically forced to live in an orphanage run by Catholic nuns.

The people on Moloka'i have been sent there to die, but so many of them live instead. Their lives are not only filled with pain, separation and heartache... but also with love, fun, laughter and most of all, hope. The residents of Kalaupapa know that they are there to stay, so they make the best of it and live their lives--no matter how short or how long those lives turn out to be--the only way they can.

As a 7-year-old girl, Rachel feels abandoned and alone on Moloka'i. But over time, through the people she meets and the life that she builds for herself, she comes to view the island as home.

In Moloka'i, we're taken on this journey with Rachel.

I REALLY enjoyed this book. I loved the characters, the setting, and the story. Don't get me wrong; there are many parts of this book that aren't pleasant--the way the leprosy victims were treated, the progression of the disease, and the inevitable deaths.

Still, it was pretty inspirational to read about these outcasts from society, all doing the only thing they could do--keep living life. While reading, I kept thinking about the silly phrase, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade." Because as dumb as it sometimes sounds, it's actually pretty sound advice. Reading about all of these people who put that advice into practice was uplifting. As ugly as the circumstances were, Rachel's life was beautiful.

Although this is a work of fiction, Brennert completed a lot of research before and while writing this book. Many of the characters are based on actual Kalaupapa residents, and Brennert does a great job of working in historical facts. Readers are also treated to a bit of Hawaiian culture, which I absolutely love.

In short, I thought this was a beautiful story and I highly recommend.

As always, the comments are open for any and all discussion about the book, if you so choose. Warning to those who haven't read it--be careful in the comments, as spoilers are not off limits!


Anonymous,  September 24, 2009 at 5:15 PM  

I tried to read this book, but I put it down after getting through about 50 pages. Great story, but there was something very 'unauthentic' about the author's writing style (something about his narration / dialogue didn't 'feel' like it was set in Hawai'i in the 1890s, or coming from characters from this period). It turned me off to the point that I just couldn't continue reading.

That being said, everyone else raves about this book, so maybe I will give it another shot. Again, the story itself is very interesting.

~Kristen M.

C-diddy September 24, 2009 at 8:35 PM  

Hey! I'll check out the book sometime. Last time I went to Hawaii, I took the Leper Colony tour on Moloka'i and it was, by far, the highlight of the trip. Amazing, fascinating, touching, beautiful... everything. It was fabulous!

Sue September 25, 2009 at 8:17 AM  

Hey, Heather!

Just saw this article today and thought you would be interested:

I've been following your blog since RoadtotheAisle. Hope you have a nice weekend!

Lindsey@14footceilings September 25, 2009 at 12:26 PM  

I read this book a while ago and LOVED it. Definitely a keeper. I'm also a sucker for historical fiction, so that doesn't hurt.

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