Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

About the Author: Alan Brennert

To say that there are few books that leave a mark on my heart would be almost unfair since I tend to immerse myself in the world and the lives of the characters.  There are times I sit to envision the setting before I allow myself to continue reading.  But Moloka’i educated me on such a tragic history, I felt compelled to further research the perils of leprosy which still plague parts of our world today.

Set in 1891, Rachel Kalama is a curious, ordinary seven year old Hawaiian girl with a pesky older sister, two rambunctious brothers, a tired mother and a father who spends months at sea to support the Kalama family.  Life is normal on the island, children attend school with bare little toes, hot tropical air, and sticky poi on their lips – until one day when a small rash is discovered on Rachel’s thigh. Denying what she fears to be true, Rachel’s mother exhausts all measures to keep suspicions at bay, but Rachel cannot escape the playground attention brought on by a simple pair of shoes worn to cover sprouting lesions. Inevitably, a spiteful public outburst fueled by sibling rivalry, “…you dirty leper!” raises brows and sparks Rachel’s next chapter as she is exiled to live in Kalaupapa on Moloka’i – a secluded Hawaiian island designated to house patients with leprosy.

In Brennert’s Moloka’i, we meet a community of people as Rachel grows from a little girl, to a woman, a wife, a mother and a dear friend as she resides on an island with people also plagued with leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease).  It’s a tragic story of betrayal, abandonment, regret, and heartache.  However, there’s also a story to be told of acceptance, forgiveness and happiness. Such is life – finding strength to bloom in the face of adversity.

Brennert includes Hawaiian terms to the reader and explains them quite well. In the event you find yourself forgetting the meanings, his use of context clues made this an easy read.  I fell in love with (most of) the characters, Hawaii, and the culture, but I mostly fell in love with Rachel’s story of triumph.  The author’s style of writing is flawless, I’m quite impressed that a New Jersey native could illustrate the beauty of Hawaii so well.  On that note, I must grab his debut novel, Honolulu!

I’m a self-admitted giver of high stars, but Moloka’i is quite deserving of 5 out of 5 stars – books like these make me fall in love with reading all over again (after I recovered from my temporary reader’s depression).


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