Monday, January 16, 2012

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

This 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.

The book covers Rachel’s entire life and the history of Hawaii and the leper colony is incredibly interesting.  The story of Rachel’s life is heartbreaking and yet her resilience is amazing.  If you enjoy historical fiction you will love this book.

My favorite quote from the book…the first time Rachel and others at Moloka’i see an airplane, Sister Catherine (a nun who plays a major part in the story) says to Rachel,

“Who can doubt the presence of God in the sight of men whom He has given wings.”  Many years later Catherine recalls that to Rachel and tells her that her statement was in error.  She then says, “God didn’t give man wings; He gave him the brain and the spirit to give himself wings.  Just as He gave us the capacity to laugh when we hurt, or to struggle on when we feel like giving up.  I’ve come to believe that how we choose to live with pain, or injustice, or death…is the true measure of the Divine within us.”  She goes on to say, “I used to wonder, why did God give children leprosy? Now I believe: God doesn’t give anyone leprosy.  He gives us, if we choose to use it, the spirit to live with leprosy, and with the imminence of death.  Because it is in our own mortality that we are most Divine.”

Mormon Mention:  There is a branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the island and it is mention several times.  They like to go to their dances and one of the characters enjoys going to Church there because of their singing of hymns.  They also mention the ‘Mormon Cemetery’ several times.  One of my favorite mentions was the following that happened one Sunday morning in December as Rachel was walking her dog, Hoku:

“At 8:30am half of Kalaupapa was still asleep as the other half readied for church.  As Rachel skirted the stony garland of cemeteries north of town she heard from somewhere up ahead—the Church of Latter-day Saints was the closest structure—the tinny music of a radio broadcast, a chorus of angelic voices raised in song.
                   Gird up you loins; fresh courage take;
                   Our God will never us forsake,
                   And soon we’ll have this tale to tell,
                   All is well! All is well!”
“The voices, she would later learn were those of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, recorded in Salt Lake City and now being broadcast on KGMB in Honolulu.  But even as she passed the church—its parishioners gathering in anticipation of the 9:00 service—the chorus was suddenly choked off, silenced by a burst of static, followed by the urgent voice of an announcer.
“This is Webly Edwards in Honolulu.  A sporadic air attack has been made on O’ahu.  Enemy planes have been shot down, and the Rising Sun sighted on the wingtips!”

4 Stars (Rated PG-13 for brief sex and gruesome descriptions)


  1. For some reason while reading this book I would check to see if my skin was flaking. A "makes you think" kind of book.