“Moloka’i” by Alan Brennert

“Moloka’i” by Alan Brennert

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert takes readers on a spectacular journey through life, death, and disease in 1890s Hawaii. The heroine is Rachel Kalama, a seven-year-old Hawaiian girl with tons of spunk and whose father is a merchant seaman. However, her life is turned upside down when a rose-colored mark appears on her skin and it’s discovered that she has leprosy. Kalama is banished to the leper colony of Kalaupapa, which is located on the island of Moloka’i. Once she arrives she struggles to replace the family she’s lost with the inhabitants of the colony. Kalama meets a native healer named Haleola who becomes an aunt to the little girl and tutors her in the ways of their people. There’s also a Franciscan sister named Mary Catherine Voorhies who cares for the girls and Kalaupapa, and of course, Kalama meets the man she’s one day destined to marry.

From Kalama’s childhood to her death, with moving prose and an engaging storyline, Brennert takes his readers on an epic journey through the shadow of disease, tragedy, and isolation. Despite her condition, Kalama’s life is richly painted with hope and courage. Brennert also expertly weaves in the pre-Christian traditions of Hawaii and the rising Christian influence on the island, which causes the Polynesian culture to stand at a crossroads. Readers will be able to get a taste of the state’s rich culture and the history of the island.

While Moloka’i is surrounded by death, by the end of the novel Brennert reminds us that hope is still there and that nothing can stop the power of the human spirit.

Top image by Patrick McNally.

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