Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

                The year was 1891. The leper colony, Kalaupapa, located on the island of Moloka’i had been established a few years earlier to isolate those diagnosed with the disease from the rest of the Hawaiian population. Rachel’s uncle, Pono, had been diagnosed and placed in Kalihi hospital undergoing different tests and treatments. Now the health inspector was knocking on Rachel’s door. She had seen this man and others like this one at her school, checking the students for any of the telltale signs of the disease. Her mother, Dorothy, has bandage the small red soar on Rachel’s leg for weeks hoping and praying that it wasn’t leprosy but the marks remained. Rachel was to be taken to Kalihi hospital, just like her Uncle Pono, and if there was no change their greatest fear would come true: Rachel would be sent to Kalaupapa where the disease would eventually kill her as it had so many others.
                Moloka’i is a historical fiction novel that is as entertaining as it is informative. Rachel has such a vibrant spirit and yet a horrible disease that took her away from the ones she loved and slowly killed those she began to love while in Kalaupapa. This story begins when Rachel is only six years old and end many years later. Throughout that time we are exposed to the life that one would live on Kalaupapa. As the world changed, much on Kalauppa stayed the same. The sick were kept to themselves with very little contact from the outside world and yet they became a community. Rachel and those she lived with and around experienced love, and the creation of families and loss. Loss was ever present in Kalaupapa but everyone lived with hope. Hope that one day they would be cured. Hope that one day they would be able to leave the island. Hope that one day they would no longer be isolated. Hope that they would one day see those they were separated from.

                Brennert did a great job with recreating the hardships of that turbulent time. He recognized that he couldn’t include one point in Hawaiian history without discussing the other events that happened within that time as well. From the death of King Kalakaua, to the imprisonment of the Queen, the provisional government established in Hawaii and yet he handled it all gracefully. Moloka’i spanned a large amount of time and handled each era delicately. Rachel was an intense character, at times filled with rebellion and others an infectious hope. She grew from a child into a woman in a world away from the world she knew. I enjoyed her story and relished her strength throughout her life. She was up against horrible odds and yet she lived in a way many couldn’t imagine. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars. I’m a fan of historical fiction and I would recommend this to other fans of historical fiction as well. 


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