Maybe because I’m still living in the moment of my 30th birthday trip to Hawaii is what made me pick up this book. Every detailed grove, every laced lei, every green mountain top I saw is still freshly painted in my mind. I mean it was the most beautiful vacation I ever experienced in my adult life. So while reading Moloka’i by Alan Brennert, I felt everything about Hawaii flooding my memory once again, and I’m happy I had a chance to go back via literary curiosity.
Just when I thought I knew most of Hawaii’s history, I was introduced to a free-spirited little girl by the name of Rachel Kalama. Set in the 1890s, Rachel grew up dreaming of visiting different places in the world just like her father does; a true daddy’s girl. Coming from a huge family, complete with a loving God-fearing mother, a younger sister, and two brothers, she had everything she can want and need. Then one day, a painless rose-colored mark appeared on her body; the mark of a disease, which immediately ripped her away from her home and family. This story is about Rachel’s exile on Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i.
Around that time, to attract leprosy (now called Hansen’s disease) was a mark of death. So many people were shunned by their family and friends out of fear. Shipping “lepers” off to a remote island was the only answer at the time, and with some quick researching, there are still people living on that island today. Reading how Rachel defied the odds by refusing to die, showed strength and admiration I’ve never experienced from a character. She was determined that she will get better one day, and go visit the world like she always planned. She wanted to go and live life without restrictions. She lost many friends and family, but her perseverance is what made this story come to life.
Now I do have to warn anybody who hasn’t read the book yet. The book is painfully slow. I appreciate the details, but I don’t need to capture the essence of everything. It was way too many times I lost focus while reading. As bad as this is about to sound, the only reason I kept reading is that something tragic happens in every chapter! It was to a point where my friend and I made a game out of it. What happened next?!
I’m not sure if I’m going to pick up Brennert’s sequel, “Daughter of Moloka’i”. If I do, it’s going to be a while before I sit down to read it. But if you ever want the experience of being in Hawaii without the expenses, Moloka’i is the book for you.