Over the Christmas holiday, I had a lot of free time to read, My aunt passed me this book, which has been all over the airports of Hawaii and the bookstores.
Moloka'i is the story of Rachel Kalama, a seven year old who contracts leprosy in the 1890's. The story follows Rachel thought out her entire life, and also serves as an unofficial documentation of Hawaii at the time, between the falling of the Hawaiian Monarchy and the ending of the second world war.
In Hawaii, during that time, Hawaiians were particularity susceptible to contracting leprosy, and with little understanding of the disease, and no cure or help of modern medicine, patients were sent in exile to a coastal town on Moloka'i, a small island off of Maui.
Rachel is sent off at such a young age, and her entire family cuts off contact with her, except for her father. Through her story, you can learn about all the different dimensions of the disease, how it so easily takes life away, how the families are separated, how these people lived in isolation for so long, with only the Catholic church aiding them.
Father Damian, a priest recently inducted into sainthood, was well-known for his work on Molokai, living in Kalaupapa. This story takes place after his passing, but his spirit is still a large part of the story.
This book is a work of fiction, but based on real people who lived in Kalaupapa. It is such a moving story and so complex, weaving in and out of sad and happy, many ups and downs.
It was easy for me to be transported back into time. Having lived in Honolulu, trying to imagine life over a century ago and watching it evolve in my head was the most exciting part. We get to see movies, cars, and planes work their magic on the islands, as well as modern medicine, and an almost cure for leprosy.
The author is the award winning screen writer of LA Law.
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About the reviewer
Aria Juliet Castillo (ariajuliet)
I'm a graphic designer, originally from Hawaii and now I'm living it up in L.A. I've been a vegetarian my entire life, but I am still obsessed with fast food, and I love eating … more
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Compellingly original in its conceit, Brennert's sweeping debut novel tracks the grim struggle of a Hawaiian woman who contracts leprosy as a child in Honolulu during the 1890s and is deported to the island of Moloka'i, where she grows to adulthood at the quarantined settlement of Kalaupapa. Rachel Kalama is the plucky, seven-year-old heroine whose family is devastated when first her uncle Pono and then she develop leprous sores and are quarantined with the disease. While Rachel's symptoms remain mild during her youth, she watches others her age dying from the disease in near total isolation from family and friends. Rachel finds happiness when she meets Kenji Utagawa, a fellow leprosy victim whose illness brings shame on his Japanese family. After a tender courtship, Rachel and Kenji marry and have a daughter, but the birth of their healthy baby brings as much grief as joy, when they must give her up for adoption to prevent infection. The couple cope with the loss of their daughter and settle into a productive working life until Kenji tries to stop a quarantined U.S. soldier from beating up his girlfriend and is tragically killed in the subsequent fight. The poignant concluding chapters portray Rachel's final years after sulfa drugs are discovered as a cure, leaving her free to abandon Moloka'i and seek out her family and daughter. Brennert's compassion makes Rachel a memorable character, and his smooth storytelling vividly brings early 20th-century Hawaii to life. Leprosy ...