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
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. With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka'i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that "few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel's story" (mostlyfiction.com).