Setting a novel in Molokai’s leper colony, conveying the horrors of the disease and the depravations suffered by those afflicted, while still telling a story that is uplifting, engaging, and ultimately hopeful is a challenge. Brennert succeeds beautifully.
The reader meets Rachel Kalama as a happy, boisterous child, beloved by both her parents. Young Rachel’s father is a sailor, bringing each of his children home gifts from far off places when he returns to port in Honolulu. Rachel’s gifts are dolls; she treasures her collection and dreams of visiting the places her father has been. It is a dream that will be overcome by a nightmare as Rachel develops a sore that does not heal and does not feel pain.
In the late 1800’s the Board of Health ferreted out those suspected of leprosy, confining them to Kalaupapa on a remote corner of the Island of Molokai to await their death. Rachel is only 7 when she is ripped from her family, sent to the leper colony.
Rachel’s life spans a lot of history, Brennert brings the reader to care for this character as he allows her to grow, learn to cope with her affliction with grace, and do her best to live her days to the fullest. This is a very enjoyable story to read, engrossing and enlightening at the same time.— Deon Stonehouse
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.
About the Author
Alan Brennert is a novelist ("Time and Chance") as well as an Emmy Award-winning screenwriter ("L.A. Law"). He lives in Southern California, but his heart is in Hawai'i.