Author: Alan Brennert384 pages, published October 2004
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Purchased for myself
I read this novel in December 2013 and absolutely fell in love with it. It instantly became one of my favorite books of all time. I have to share with you all why I love this book so much, and why you should go to the library, bookstore, or go online right now to get yourself a copy of this book!
Let me start by saying I have quite the love affair with the state of Hawaii. A love affair in the sense that my soul aches daily for the laid back lifestyle, tropical breezes, pristine beaches, the WARMTH. The Aloha Spirit. I first visited Hawaii when I was five (but don't remember it). Most recently I went to Maui with my husband in September 2012 and in December 2013 with my Mom. I can't wait to go back, and I WILL be going back!
Anyway, back to the book! I first heard of this book while in Hawaii in 2012 with my husband. Our condo had a large collection of books (AWESOME!) and I was drawn to the book since it was set in Hawaii and I was eager to learn more about the culture and history of Hawaii. I started reading a few pages at that time but with almost 400 pages of small print, knew I wouldn't finish it before we had to go home. So I added it to my "to read" list and didn't think too much more about it. Fast forward to my December 2013 trip. Mom and I were in the Portland airport with time to kill before boarding the plane. Despite the fact that I had a purse full of reading material for the trip, a stop at the airport Powell's Books was an absolute must. While browsing, Molokai caught my eye. I immediately bought the book (the only copy on the shelf).
The book follows the life of Rachel Kalama, a Hawaiian girl who grew up in Honolulu in the late 1800's. Her father sails around the world for his work, and Rachel dreams of traveling the world one day. When she was seven, she discovered a rose colored mark on her skin which was diagnosed as leprosy. In that time, little was know about leprosy, and Hawaiians infected with the disease were immediately taken away from their families and exiled to the city of Kalaupapa on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i. As a young girl, Rachel feels like her world is ending--until she grows to love her new community and the people in it. The book follows her life through adulthood and the lives of several of her close friends on the island.
I have recently discovered my love for historical fiction. Brennert beautifully showcases a time in history many of us aren't aware of. I personally was not aware of this time in Hawaii's history until reading this book. Through the lives of people viewed by the leaders of Hawaii as unclean, Brennert eloquently illustrates the history of the settlement of Kalaupapa, the treatment of the disease, and the varying degrees of severity of the disease. Some, like Rachel, live a long life with the disease; others die within months or years of arriving in Kalaupapa. Through this story you read heartwarming and heartbreaking descriptions of friendship, love, loss, and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of horrible disease.
The character development is fantastic in this novel. There are many wonderful characters in this story,, but (besides Rachel) my favorite character was Sister Catherine--not only is she fighting her own battle with leprosy, she is charged with caring for the children in the leper colony. Her struggles with her faith and why God gives children leprosy are beautifully captured in this novel.
In my reviews, I try to list both positives and negatives of the book--certainly there is no book that's completely perfect. However, I struggled with finding negatives within this book. Despite the fact it was long book, I was sad when it ended. It didn't drag on. It was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. The only negative thing I can say was that it ended. I wanted more!
In short: read this book. You will not regret it. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and Rachel's story will change you--for the better.
To leave you with some Aloha Spirit--a photo of Polo Beach (Maui) at sunset. Taken December 2013 by yours truly.
Overall grade for "Moloka'i": A
Aloha and Happy Reading!