Rachel Kalama is an average six year old. She is mischievous, she hates wearing shoes and she fights with her sister. Her Father is a sailor and he mails her dolls from all the faraway lands he visits. Her life is ordinary in Hawaiian terms. Until a patch of thick, feelingless skin shows up on her leg. Her mother tries to hide it. Leprosy is a worse sentence than death in Hawaii. Rachel’s Uncle Pono contracted the disease. The government searched for him. They found him. They took him away from his family and sent him to die. But no matter how hard Rachel’s mother tries, she can’t hide the leprosy forever. Soon, Rachel’s condition is discovered. The six year old is taken from her home, her family, her beloved father. She is sent to Molokai, the leper’s island, where the sick are sent to die, out of sight and out of mind of the public. Sent to die, but Rachel’s life is just beginning.
Alan Brennert’s writing is smooth and easy to read. His passion for Hawaiian history and people is evident through his meticulous detail of the islands. The book was steady and constant, but didn’t throw in too many surprises. Taking on a character’s entire life is difficult to do. The reader tends to lose interest. It’s hard to make a character constant and relatable throughout eighty years.
Pros: Little talked about issues with an easy reading style, great word pictures and writing that generates a response in the reader.
Cons: Too long of a book with unoriginal characters. He essentially bit off more than he could chew and a result, chunks of Rachel’s life are glossed over.
For me, the novel dragged on a bit long. I thoroughly enjoyed it however, and I cried for the last 100 pages straight. Brennert does a good job of making the reader care about what happens to Rachel. The book spans from the dark ages of leprosy in the late 1800s all the way to its cure in the 1970s. Molokai isn’t just a book about leprosy, Hawaii, or even the island Molokai. It is a story about ambition, obstacles, and peace with our lot in life, no matter what it may be. Joy can be found in the saddest of things and beauty can be found in the ugliest of things. That’s what makes life livable. That’s what Brennert tells us. I just wish it didn’t take so long to do so.