Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book 96: Moloka'i

Moloka’i was an amazing book by Alan Brennert about leprosy in Hawai’i at the turn of the century.  It was amazing. It’s rare that I could be entranced by a world I know little about so I’m learned as I went and at the same time I loved the characters and plot.

Moloka’i has a sad past. It was the home of the leper colony of Hawai’i. First off, I didn’t realize that there was a leper colony in the states (or at least a territory of the states for part of the history) let alone it went on until 1969. Well technically there are still people living in Kalaupapa with the disease but it’s not forced inhabitation like it was before. But that was the tip of the iceberg of things I was learning about in this book. I learned that Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London would visit and write about their impressions.

The book focuses on the early 1900s and focused on Rachel’s saga of living with the disease. She went from small child separated from her family at about age. Since she was a young girl alone, she was sent to Bishop Home to be raised by nuns (since her Uncle Pono was deemed to be unfit/unmoral to raise his favorite niece).  She then grew up around a world where friends and family died, making new family on the island and watching her hope being taken away by a positive scrape.  It was moving to see her ability to grow up and thrive on the island while being around death and disease.

One of the things I loved about this book was how it blended fiction with nonfiction. I’m so glad that there is a bibliography at the end of the book. I now want to read more books about the island. I even want to visit the national park and see the real life places in this book. Even the characters were based on real people that wrote letters from the island or made it to the diaries from Jack London. There is an incredible blend of events.

I can’t wait to share this book with a few people. The tricky part is who to loan it to first. But I have a couple days to decide that one. It’s rare to have books you are entranced by the storyline and characters while learning about history. 

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