Rating: 4/5 stars.
What is leprosy?
Before I read this book, my answer would’ve been “a disease”. From watching “Drake and Josh” I could’ve assumed that it had to do with a person’s skin. Now, after reading Moloka’i, I would say the same thing – it is a disease, after all – but I might add that this is a disease that tests the strength of the human spirit, just as it did with Rachel Kalama.
After a rose-colored mark indicating leprosy appears on her skin, seven-year-old Rachel is taken from her family to a quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here she is supposed to live the remainder of her short life, and die just like everyone else who has the disease. Rachel isn’t willing to give up that easily though, and exceeds the expectations of those who thought that the disease would simply end her life. Soon she befriends others who have leprosy, and builds a new beginning on an island that was only known for the lives that had ended on it.
Moloka’i is an epic that encompasses Rachel’s entire life saga in 384 pages without feeling too rushed or too slow. Alan Brennert keeps the story flowing smoothly through Rachel’s narrative, interspersed with wonderful descriptions of the Hawai’i-like setting and the occasional perspective of another character besides Rachel. This is one of those books in which the setting becomes like a second home to you – one of those books that you won’t want to put down.
Rachel proved to be quite the protagonist. She possessed an admirable determination, coupled with a realistic vulnerability that made her character likeable. As the book progresses readers will cheer for her as she faces obstacles ranging from family to love to death.
My favorite aspect of this book was how much I learned about leprosy and its effects. I did learn about the actual disease itself – its sneaky symptoms, the terrifying disfigurements it causes, etc. – yet it was gut-wrenching to see how leprosy tore apart families and shattered the human heart. At least one’s family would remain by them if they were diagnosed with cancer, but if they were diagnosed with leprosy, they wouldn’t even have their loved ones to rely on. To see Rachel overcome that obstacle, and to see so many others find the willpower to survive through such hardship really makes me marvel at how strong humans can be and wonder why we don’t show that strength more often.
Overall, a great read. I would recommend Moloka’i to fans of historical fiction, books with plenty of pathos, and strong female protagonists.