Moloka’i by Alan Brennert Published 2003 384 pages
From the back of the book:
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.
My book club chose this for February. I was the one who recommended it, having read about it on someone else’s blog (sorry, can’t remember which one).
Let me just tell you outright, I loved this book. I thought it was beautiful. Some people were disappointed that it wasn’t more meaty, that there weren’t more themes and symbolisms appearing in the book. Meh, maybe that’s true. The discussion questions bring up the men in Rachel’s life, surfing, religion. Is this a book you’ll chew on in English class? Probably not. But it is a book that will make you think that the world is an okay place.
Interestingly enough, my fellow book clubbers couldn’t fault Mr. Brennert on any of his historical accuracy. Any historical inaccuracies he discloses at the end of the book. One other criticism was that the characters didn’t talk like the era they were in. I didn’t find this to be a problem.
In trying to figure out where I first read about Moloka’i, I came across two posts that I found interesting and wanted to share:
From A Patchwork of Books: “The plot goes on, as Rachel’s sad life does…” I felt that this missed the point of the book. The point of the book is that Rachel’s life, while on the surface is sad, is ultimately a wonderful and fulfilling life. The whole point of the book can be summed up in this passage:
Staggering back to bed she felt useless, and reconciled to the idea that her time on earth was nearly over; in fact she welcomed it. She knew she had been luckier than most, luckier than Emily or Leilani or Violet; she had grown up, grown old, fallen in love and been loved….She lay in bed at night listening for the sound of drums and marchers, content to die.
She doesn’t pity herself, she doesn’t say “Woe is me”. She’s made the most of what has been given her in life. Rather than feel sad for Rachel, we should all strive to make sure that when we die, we are content. Not all of us will be rich and famous, but that’s not what is most important. What is most important is living what life we have to the fullest.
I think this quote sums up my feelings well:
From Somewhere In The Middle: “It was a touching book; one that made me cry and helped me see how people can find enjoyment in life despite the constant hardships they experience. What I loved most about the book were the beautiful folktales and Hawaiian traditions weaved into the story.”
I think that Rachel could be any one of us. Many of us had crappy childhoods, many of us have physical problems, many of us wonder if our parents love us…but the point is not that this stuff is in our life, the point is: Am I who I am because of what happened to me or in spite of what happened to me? The difference is subtle, but it differentiates between victims and people who take charge of their life. When we are who we are in spite of what has happened to us, then we are captains of our own life, pioneers of our own destiny.
Rating: 90 out of 100
**As a side note, Alan Brennert has another book coming out Winter 2008/2009 called Honolulu “about a young Korean woman who comes to Honolulu in 1914 as a picture bride. It’s told more from an immigrant’s perspective and deals with Hawai’i’s unique multicultural society, as well as encompassing much of the city’s modern history.” After reading Moloka’i, I will definitely be picking up Honolulu.