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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert~★★★★

Author: Alan Brennert
Title: Moloka'i
Release Date: December 1st, 2008
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: Hawaiian Fiction

Book Cover: "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 people who embraced life in the face of death. Such isthe warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that 'few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel's story' (mostlyfiction.com)."

Taryn's Review: While this is a fantastic book, there was something missing for me. Other people have raved about the book, even proclaiming it one of the best, but I just can't agree. There is an element of the writing that lacks to fully convey the hurt and pain of Rachel Kalama, the protagonist. There are questions that I wanted answered, like how Rachel's mother abandoned her after one letter, yet the given answer was that her mother  "presumed her  [Rachel] dead." I think any mother who loved her child would search until she knew the truth and  would not simply presume her child was dead.

Also, Rachel came in contact with nuns at St. Bishop Home in Moloka'i, yet when Brennert focused on the nuns, they were strongly lacking in faith in God; one nun even tried to commit suicide after the death of her mother. I would hope among a group of nuns at least one of them would be strong in her faith, seeing how her life is dedicated to God and His work. I felt this portrayal gave the impression that no one could truly be faithful to God in the hard times, but perhaps that is what Brennert was getting at. 

My final upset with the book was that Rachel constantly seemed to just roll with the punches of life without any questions. I know many strong people who have all broken down at some point in their lifetimes from their hurts, yet came out fighting to reclaim their lives. It seemed Rachel was just always fighting and never took the time to reflect or lament all she had lost in life. I would think any normal human being would have a moment of outward mourning for the life they wanted and couldn't have, and for those they wanted as part of their life but had to leave behind.

On a good note, the book was well-written and the setting in Hawai'i was one that is new and exotic to me. I don't know much about the treatment of people with leprosy (Hansen's Disease today), but the book really made the issue come alive. It's sad to look back and see how human beings treated one another, but we must also understand the fear and ignorance that accompanied the disease. I also really enjoyed the inclusion of Hawai'i mythology relayed to Rachel. I would definitely read one of Alan Brennert's books again even though Moloka'i may not be five stars in my world, it's still great and worth the time to read it.

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