Saturday, May 21, 2005
Book Recommendation: Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
Seven-year-old Rachel Kalama loves her life on the island of Oha'u in idyllic Hawaii and dreams of travel to distant places like her merchant seaman father . . . until she is found to have leprosy. Forcibly removed from her parents by the authorities and sent to the leper's colony on Moloka'i, Rachel finds friendship, love, and eventually health as she grows to adulthood during the first part of the 20th Century.
I would recommend this book!
First of all, this is historical fiction at its best! Because the author starts his story in 1890 and ends it in 1970, you are walked through a huge chunk of Hawaiian history---the monarchy, the annexation of Hawai'i by the US government, Statehood, World War 2, Pearl Harbor, invention of Sulpha drugs that eventually halt the progression of leprosy. Although the historical facts are plentiful, they are not overpowering, they provide just the right touch of balance to the fictional part of the story...making it real while keeping it from being dry. (Also, The author wrote screenplays for "LA Law," so far from being a dry history lesson, this book sizzles with plot twists, romance and intrigue!)
The story itself is moving (melancholy and yet joyous) and provides you with an insight as to how it must have been for people suffering from leprosy in those days---you see how lonely it is to be an outcast, shut off from society, and yet, these patients bore their lot with dignity, trying to make the best of the rotten hand that fate had dealt them. This was particularly meaningful to me as having grown up in India, lepers and leprosy are not alien to me. As a child I would see leprosy patients all the time, and like the children in Hawai'i, I, too, was told to stay away from them and not to touch them lest I contract it myself. How ignorant we were. How much my heart bleeds for the patients I may have inadvertently offended.
Last, but certainly, not least, the author does such a lovely job of capturing the essence of the land in which it was set. As you read the novel, you can almost smell the briny Hawai'ian air with its faint sweet fragrance of plumeria, you can see the beautiful volcanic mountains in the distance, you can hear the sweet little Hawai'ian children calling out to their friends. The book is sprinkled liberally with charming Hawai'ian words and phrases which add to the Hawaiian experience. This book is a celebration of Hawai'i and in particular, the group of leprosy patients (or Hansen's Disease as it was later referred to) who triumphed over adversity and managed to make decent lives for themselves on the island.
An unforgettable read, truly.
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