Summary and book reviews of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Moloka'i

by Alan Brennert

Moloka'i
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2003, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2004, 384 pages

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Book Summary

Growing up in idyllic Honolulu in the 1890s, Rachel is part of a big loving family until she is forcibly removed from her family and sent to the isolated leper colony on the island of Moloka'i. True to historical accounts, Rachel's life, though shadowed by disease, isolation and tragedy, is also one of joy, courage, and dignity.

Young Rachel Kalama, growing up in idyllic Honolulu in the 1890s, is part of a big, loving Hawaiian family, and dreams of seeing the far-off lands that her father, a merchant seaman, often visits. But at the age of seven, Rachel and her dreams are shattered by the discovery that she has leprosy. Forcibly removed from her family, she is sent to Kalaupapa, the isolated leper colony on the island of Moloka'i.

In her exile she finds a family of friends to replace the family she's lost: a native healer, Haleola, who becomes her adopted "auntie" and makes Rachel aware of the rich culture and mythology of her people; Sister Mary Catherine Voorhies, one of the Franciscan sisters who care for young girls at Kalaupapa; and the beautiful, worldly Leilani, who harbors a surprising secret. At Kalaupapa she also meets the man she will one day marry.

True to historical accounts, Moloka'i is the story of an extraordinary human drama, the full scope and pathos of which has never been told before in fiction. But Rachel's life, though shadowed by disease, isolation, and tragedy, is also one of joy, courage, and dignity. This is a story about life, not death; hope, not despair. It is not about the failings of flesh, but the strength of the human spirit.

Chapter 1
1891

Later, when memory was all she had to sustain her, she would come to cherish it: Old Honolulu as it was then, as it would never be again. To a visitor it must have seemed a lush garden of fanciful hybrids: a Florentine-style palace shaded by banyan and monkeypod trees; wooden storefronts flourishing on dusty streets, cuttings from America's Old West; tall New England church steeples blooming above the palm and coconut groves. To a visitor it must have seemed at once exotic and familiar; to five-year-old Rachel it was a playground, and it was home.

Certain things stood out in memory, she couldn't say why: the weight and feel of a five-cent hapa'umi coin in her pocket; the taste of cold Tahiti lemonade on a hot day; palm fronds rustling like locusts high above, as she and her brothers played among the rice paddies and fishponds of Waikiki. She remembered taking a swim, much to her mother's dismay, in the broad canals of Kapi'olani Park; she could still feel the mossy...

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About This Book
Moloka'i is the story of Rachel Kalama, a young native Hawaiian girl growing up in Honolulu at the end of the19th century, who at age seven is diagnosed with Hansen's disease, taken from her family, and exiled to the leprosy settlement on a remote peninsula on the island of Moloka'i. It is the story of her life there, the friends who become her family, the man she falls in love with and marries, the child she is forced to give up, and her eventual, miraculous release from exile. Though a work of fiction, Moloka'i is based very much on fact. The author weaves real, historical patients and caregivers--from Father Damien to Mother Marianne Cope to the governor of the Territory of Hawai'i, Lawrence Judd--into the fabric of ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Washington Post

A poignant story

Chicago Tribune

The people at Kalaupapa have lost their health, their families, often their dignity and identity, and they continue to suffer as new friends die and children born there are taken away. The book explores the meaning of family, whether it's the people you are born to or the people you welcome into your life as you grow older. Alan Brennert draws on historical accounts of Kalaupapa and weaves in traditional Hawaiian stories and customs.... Moloka'i is the story of people who had much taken from them but also gained an unexpected new family and community in the process.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Moving and elegiac

Los Angeles Times

A dazzling historical saga about a spirited Hawaiian girl who is banished to a leper colony in the early 20th century. What You'll Love Taking a rare look at the rich history of a state most Americans think of largely in terms of tourism. What You Won't Nothing.

Publishers Weekly

Compellingly original.....Leprosy may seem a macabre subject, but Brennert transforms the material into a touching, lovely account of a woman's journey as she rises above the limitations of a devastating illness.

Kirkus Reviews

A gritty story of love and survival in a Hawaiian leper colony.....Not a comfortable read, but certainly instructive.

Reader Reviews

Gladys

What does ohana mean?
I belong to a book club at a library & the librarian chose this book. I was so taken by the story & it made a lot of things happen to my mind as I read it. This book had so much love, sadness, freedom & to believe in yourself & ...   Read More

Cher Kenyon

Moloka'i
I have read both his books, Hawaii included and I couldn't put either book down. You can really feel for the people he is talking about, cried as read the stories, could relate to the places he talks about since I have lived on Oahu for 30 yrs. I ...   Read More

Lehua

Awsome book
All I have to say is I can only hope that Mr. Brennert puts out another amazing book. I've read both Moloka'i & Honolulu. Being born & raised in Hawai'i made both books that much more enjoyable. Also to comment on Teri's posting, you're ...   Read More

Julie Masters

Couldn't put it down
I made my first trip to HI this past year and when I saw the title of this book I had to pick it up and read the jacket. I couldn't get home and started on it quickly enough. I was stuck in an airport for five hours yesterday and didn't mind at all...   Read More

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