Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Moloka'i - Alan Brennert

Summary: Young Rachel Kalama, growing up in idyllic Honolulu in the 1890s, is part of a big, loving Hawaiian family, and dreams of seeing the far-off lands that her father, a merchant seaman, often visits. But at the age of seven, Rachel and her dreams are shattered by the discovery that she has leprosy. Forcibly removed from her family, she is sent to Kalaupapa, the isolated leper colony on the island of Moloka'i.

In her exile she finds a family of friends to replace the family she's lost: a native healer, Haleola, who becomes her adopted "auntie" and makes Rachel aware of the rich culture and mythology of her people; Sister Mary Catherine Voorhies, one of the Franciscan sisters who care for young girls at Kalaupapa; and the beautiful, worldly Leilani, who harbors a surprising secret. At Kalaupapa she also meets the man she will one day marry.

True to historical accounts, Moloka'i is the story of an extraordinary human drama, the full scope and pathos of which has never been told before in fiction. But Rachel's life, though shadowed by disease, isolation, and tragedy, is also one of joy, courage, and dignity. This is a story about life, not death; hope, not despair. It is not about the failings of flesh, but the strength of the human spirit.
(summary and cover photo from barnesandnoble.com)

My Review: Inside the beautiful cover of this book is a story based on some ugly facts from Hawaiian history. It's the story of families torn and shamed when a member develops leprosy and must be sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined society living on the island of Moloka'i. The focus of this novel is on one young girl, Rachael, who at the age of seven is diagnosed with the disease. Over the next six decades this courageous girl's journey is followed, full of both triumphs and tears.

Rich in history, this story starts out fascinating, full descriptive scenery and engaging characters. The early characters draw the reader in making this an emotional read. About half way through the book, nonessential characters begin being introduced rapidly making it is difficult to keep personalities straight or connect with them. At this point the story loses much of the emotional draw. It is also at this point that the story becomes bogged down with history, losing focus on the story line. It seems the author neglected his main characters in favor of cramming in as much fact as possible.

The storyline takes many unbelievable turns before coming to a simple close. I did, however, enjoy all the facts and history but felt that it would have been better told in two completely seperate novels. I wish the author would have chosen to focus on Moloka'i and stayed away from all the World War II information. I realize that these events coincided but the turn the story took with this new material was unconvincing. This resulting in being one of those books that I was glad to have read and learned quite a bit from but that I walk away from pondering what the book could have been if the author had stayed course.

My Rating: 3 Stars

If I had to sum it up in one sentence: A novel that attempts to encompass too many decades of Hawaiian history at the expense of the storyline.

1 comment:

Gerbera Daisy Mom said...

We read this as a book club selection in April -- so my recollection of the details are skethcy, but I would totally agree with your review. I liked it, but felt like there was something missing.

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