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Reading guide for Daughter of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

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Daughter of Moloka'i

by Alan Brennert

Daughter of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert X
Daughter of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2020, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. If you've read Moloka'i, you already knew that the U.S. government used to take away the newborn children of Hansen's disease patients out of fear their parents would infect them. If you weren't aware of this, does it shock you to learn of it—and the fact that this practice continued even into the 1950s? What must Ruth's parents have gone through to give up their child?
  2. What do animals represent to Ruth?
  3. If you were Taizo, would you have accepted Jiro's offer and moved to California? If you were Etsuko, what would your response have been?
  4. What is your opinion of Jiro, and did it change in any way over the course of the story?
  5. Would it shock you to learn that Joseph Dreesen was based on a real-life person—his name was John Reese—who made public statements about the Japanese similar to those Dreesen makes in this novel? Were you aware of the widespread prejudice that Japanese immigrants faced in the early twentieth century?
  6. Were you aware of the way many Japanese Americans lost their homes and jobs when they were "relocated" and interned? Do you believe Executive Order No. 9066 was justified or unjustified?
  7. Can you imagine yourself living under the conditions Ruth's family finds themselves living at Tanforan and Manzanar?
  8. Who, in your judgment, was at fault in the Manzanar riot—the protesters, the military police, or both?
  9. If you were a Japanese American being interned during World War II, what would your response have been to the government's "loyalty oath"—Questions 27 and 28—referred to on page 157 of the novel?
  10. Did you find Taizo's sense of honor baffling or frustrating? Did you come to understand it better by the end of the story?
  11. What would you have done had you been Ruth, suddenly confronted with the news that her birth mother was alive—and that she had Hansen's disease? Would you have agreed to see her, as Ruth does, or not?
  12. Compare and contrast the kinds of exile that Rachel and Ruth each experienced. Which would you have found more oppressive?
  13. Do you believe Sister Catherine ultimately found peace and was forgiven by her God?
  14. How is the Hawaiian phrase "The land is the chief, man is its servant" relevant to us today?
  15. How would you have dealt with the secret that Jiro and Nishi tell Ruth? Would you have been as angry as she was, and how difficult would it have been for you to keep the secret?
  16. Do you believe Ruth and Peggy actually heard the huaka'i pōat Kahakuloa?
  17. Would you have done what Rachel does in order to see her great-grandchild?
  18. Discuss Ruth's changing views on what it means to be hapa. Do you think the peace she finds in it has been well earned?

Recommended Viewing

There are a wealth of nonfiction books available about the Japanese internment, many of which are cited in the Author's Note.

But here are some works in other media that can be viewed with your entire family and that present vivid and moving stories of Japanese Americans' experiences in World War II relocation centers.

Farewell to Manzanar was one of the first films about the Japanese internment. A powerful television movie based on the memoir by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, it has rarely been seen since its first airing in 1976. Happily it has recently been released on DVD by the Japanese American National Museum. To order a copy, go to https://janmstore.com/products/farewell-to-manzanar-dvd.

Allegiance is a stirring stage musical inspired by the true life experiences of its star, George Takei. It fictionalizes and conflates the draft resistance at Heart Mountain camp with the violence that took place at Tule Lake to create a poignant musical drama about conflict, estrangement, and reconciliation. It is currently playing in theatrical venues across the country and there is also a film of the musical that is presented on special occasions (such as December 7). For information on both stage and film productions, go to https://allegiancemusical.com.

Rabbit in the Moon, an award-winning documentary by Emiko Omori, explores not only her family's years at Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona, but takes a wider look at the tensions, divisions, and resistance in the internment camps in general. One of the people interviewed is Harry Ueno, whose arrest sparked the Manzanar riot. It too is available through the Japanese American National Museum at https://janmstore.com/products/rabbit-in-the-moon-a-documentary-memoir-about-the-world-war-ii-japanese-american-internment.

The Untold Story: Internment of Japanese Americans in Hawai'i is a documentary by Ryan Kayamoto focusing on the little-known internment camps in Hawai'i, where the majority of Japanese Americans were not interned. The story of those who were—leaders in the Japanese community, Buddhist priests, schoolteachers, often subjected to degrading treatment—has long needed telling. The DVD can be ordered from the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i at https://www.jcch.com/gift-shop. (The Hawaiian internment camps were also the subject of a memorable episode of the rebooted Hawaii Five-O titled "Ho'onani Makuakane" that aired in 2013 and is available on Netflix.)

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of St. Martin's Griffin. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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