As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

May 14, 2011

MOLOKA'I by Alan Brennert, 2003

Moloka'iThis richly imagined novel, set in Hawai'i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place---and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i. Here her life is supposed to end---but instead she discovers it is only just beginning. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Elena – Always looking for a good book

A fantastic read - but not an easy read, Moloka'i takes its readers on an emotional journey via the life a little Hawaiian girl in the 1890s. An energetic and beloved daughter and sister, Rachel develops leprosy sores as an 8 year old child. To the heartbreak and devastation of her family, she is pulled from her home on Honolulu and shipped off to the leper colony on the island of Moloka'i. There, she adjusts to her new life in a community of disfigured and dying people. But, during that adjustment she learns that the population is truly a community. They may have been shipped off to die, but they learn how to live.

While Rachel suffers from a mild case of leprosy (Hansen's disease), she is able to live a long life. She makes friends, develops romances and learns how to live almost through the trauma of leprosy. While the pain is there, there is also strength and fun and pure joy. Her life's journey takes her through world wars, Hawaii's transformation from independent island to statehood and the miracles of medical science - all from the perspective of an inhabitant of a tiny colony on a tiny island. Her spirit soars and dives and then soars again. And somehow, she makes it through.

It is almost obvious that the author Moloka'i is male. And while gender doesn't always play a role in the angle a book is written, it somehow does here. Alan Brennert forgoes emotional and sensual writing and lets the characters and the characters' setting tell the story. Instead, he lets the reader imagine the emotional reactions to the situations factually described. It's interesting to read sexual situations without sensuality. Somehow, though, by foregoing the sensuality, the reader can delve into the true emotionality of the character using personal experience and imagination.

Moloka'i was beautifully researched - down to street names and characteristics of the surroundings. He is able to tell a story and paint a picture of the changing characteristics of Hawaii and the world. He threads world events through his characters' lives to show the development of the characters. Even more, he helps the reader fall in love with little Rachel - and then rally around her.

Market: Adult
Language: moderate
Sensuality: moderate
Violence: (explicit but rare)
Adult Themes: VERY adult themes of pain, illness, and a whole range of human emotion

Book formats:

To learn more about the author, visit: Alan Brennert


Anonymous said...

This sounds like a heartbreaking story, but one that is well worth reading. Thanks for the great review, Elena!

Heather said...

Thank you for this review. I've been on the fence about reading this book but now I will!
Thank you!