Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Title: Moloka’i

Author: Alan Brennert

# pages: 389

Date published: 2003

Genre: historical fiction

Challenge(s): Raved-About Reads, Book Around the States (Hawaii), July Book Blowout, Summer 2008 Reading Challenge, Science in Fiction (Hansen’s disease, formerly called leprosy)


(highly recommended)

Setting: Moloka’i, Hawaii

First Sentence:

“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.”

Synopsis: Set in Hawaii from the late 1800s to the late 1940s, Moloka’i is Rachel Kalama’s story. It begins when Rachel is seven years old and her mother discovers a raised, red sore on Rachel’s thigh that does not hurt—all the sign of the dreaded disease sweeping though the Hawaiian people, leprosy. The law at the time demanded that Rachel be taken from her family and her home and quarantined at the leprosy colony on the island of Moloka’i.

Reason for Reading: St. Pete book club’s pick for August

Random Thoughts: I’m really bummed that I’m not going to be here to actually discuss this books with my F2F book club (I nominated it, too), but I’m going to be in Poland that week (I know, I know, I’m going to get to stay in my in-laws fabulous mountain house just a short bus ride from Krakow, so I’m not that bummed ;o)).

Several years ago I got the chance to visit Maui (what a great vacation that was!). And I’d certainly heard about Moloka’i and Father Damien before reading Moloka’i, but I didn’t really know that much about the history of the leprosarium until I read this book. I stopped reading a lot to look up what was fact and what was fiction while I was reading and I’m very impressed with the historical accuracy of the book.

This was not a quick read for me. I found myself slowing down and really absorbing the book. I’m glad I did. It’s not a book to be rushed through. There are a lot of weighty issues to ponder—the nature of freedom, disease, family, and shame. It made me think about the way AIDS patients have been treated (remember Ryan White??). And wonder if there is an ethical way to treat a possibly communicable disease until scientists know for sure how it is spread. In hindsight, what happened to people diagnosed with Hansen’s disease (called leprosy at the time) is horrible, but at the time I’m sure it seemed like the right thing to do especially since the Hawaiian people had very little immunity to Mycobacterium leprae (the bacteria that causes Hansen’s disease).

You would think that a book of this nature would be depressing, but I never found that to be true. Brennert did a fabulous job, in my opinion, of giving us a glimpse into the past (of leprosy, in particular, and Hawaii, in general) and I really enjoyed following Rachel through her life (which is long ;o)). I’m looking forward to more books by Mr. Brennert.

Let’s give people a variety of opinions! If you've reviewed this book (or a book by this author), leave me a link to your review in the comments and I'll link to your review, too!

Also reviewed by:

Book Club Classics!

The Magic Lasso

It's All about Books


Jill said...

I reviewed this book recently - here is the link:

In my comments is a response from Alan Brennert! Perhaps he'll see your review too!

All the best,

raidergirl3 said...

I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Have a great trip to Poland! How awesome.

beastmomma said...

This book sounds interesting. I think that public health officials are constantly trying to strike the balance between using their powers to quartine for the safety of the community and the rights and dignity of the individual. Enjoy your trip!

kristen said...

Thanks for the link! I enjoyed this novel... and your review!

Here's my review:

Suey said...

I've got a review of this book. I loved it!

bookinhand said...

This book is on my TBR pile. Your review makes me want to read it even more. I appreciated your comment about taking one's time to read it (that it may be a slower read for some) so that topics can be considered by the reader. I will keep that in mind! Diane