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Moloka'i Paperback – September 9, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Compellingly original in its conceit, Brennert's sweeping debut novel tracks the grim struggle of a Hawaiian woman who contracts leprosy as a child in Honolulu during the 1890s and is deported to the island of Moloka'i, where she grows to adulthood at the quarantined settlement of Kalaupapa. Rachel Kalama is the plucky, seven-year-old heroine whose family is devastated when first her uncle Pono and then she develop leprous sores and are quarantined with the disease. While Rachel's symptoms remain mild during her youth, she watches others her age dying from the disease in near total isolation from family and friends. Rachel finds happiness when she meets Kenji Utagawa, a fellow leprosy victim whose illness brings shame on his Japanese family. After a tender courtship, Rachel and Kenji marry and have a daughter, but the birth of their healthy baby brings as much grief as joy, when they must give her up for adoption to prevent infection. The couple cope with the loss of their daughter and settle into a productive working life until Kenji tries to stop a quarantined U.S. soldier from beating up his girlfriend and is tragically killed in the subsequent fight. The poignant concluding chapters portray Rachel's final years after sulfa drugs are discovered as a cure, leaving her free to abandon Moloka'i and seek out her family and daughter. Brennert's compassion makes Rachel a memorable character, and his smooth storytelling vividly brings early 20th-century Hawaii to life. Leprosy may seem a macabre subject, but Brennert transforms the material into a touching, lovely account of a woman's journey as she rises above the limitations of a devastating illness.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


A dazzling historical novel. (The Washington Post)

Moloka'i is a haunting story of tragedy in a Pacific paradise. (Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek)

Alan Brennert draws on historical accounts of Kalaupapa and weaves in traditional Hawaiian stories and customs.... Moloka'i is the story of people who had much taken from them but also gained an unexpected new family and community in the process. (Chicago Tribune)

[An] absorbing novel...Brennert evokes the evolution of--and hardships on--Moloka'i in engaging prose that conveys a strong sense of place. (National Geographic Traveler)

Moving and elegiac. (Honolulu Star-Bulletin)

Compellingly original...Brennert's compassion makes Rachel a memorable character, and his smooth storytelling vividly brings early twentieth-century Hawai'i to life. (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (October 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312304358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312304355
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,273 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alan Brennert is the author of the best-selling historical novels MOLOKA'I and HONOLULU, both favorites of reading groups across the country. MOLOKA'I was a 2012 "One Book, One San Diego" selection and HONOLULU was named one of the best books of 2009 by The Washington Post. He has also written contemporary novels (TIME AND CHANCE), short stories, teleplays, screenplays, and the libretto of a stage musical, WEIRD ROMANCE, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by David Spencer. His work on the television series L.A. LAW earned him an Emmy Award in 1991, and his short story "Ma Qui" was honored with a Nebula Award in 1992.
PEOPLE Magazine says of his latest novel, PALISADES PARK: "Brennert writes his valentine to the New Jersey plaground of his youth in RAGTIME style, mixing fact and fiction. It's a memorable trip." Alan grew up in the towns of Cliffside Park, Palisades Park, and Edgewater, always living within a mile of the legendary Palisades Amusement Park, the setting for his novel. He calls it "a love letter to a cherished part of my childhood." A graduate of California State University at Long Beach and an alumnus of UCLA Film School, he currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

267 of 279 people found the following review helpful By Nancy R. Katz VINE VOICE on January 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One day as a young adolescent, while browsing at the library, I came across the book Miracle at Carville by Betty Martin. This book, which told the story of the author's diagnosis of leprosy in her 20's, also described the years she spent receiving treatment for this disease at a hospital in Carville, Georgia. Of the many books I have read since then, few have made as much of an impression on me as this title. When I learned about the sequel, I immediately rushed to borrow No One Must Ever Know and felt the same way about this title too. Recently I chanced upon the book Moloka'i by Alan Brennert and recognized the name of this area in Hawaii that was a former leprosy colony. I immediately had to read this book, and while no longer an impressionable adolescent as I once was, this book again filled me with compassion and love for the people who lived and suffered from this life threatening and alienating disease.
In the late 19th century surrounded by the beauty of the islands of Hawaii, 7 year old Rachel Kalma lives an idyllic live surrounded by family members who adore her. While her father travels the world for his job, Rachel listens attentively to her father's stories and hopes one day to see the places her father vividly describes to her. Although there are some in their area who contract leprosy and are removed from the surroundings like Rachel's uncle, nobody ever thinks this disease will affect Rachel. Then she begins to show signs of a lesion which doesn't' respond to any of he mother's ministrations or medicine from the doctors. Eventually the authorities receive word that Rachel may have this disease and when they investigate Rachel, her families fears confirmed, she must leave her family to live among other lepers.
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83 of 86 people found the following review helpful By L. Kelly on September 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This amazing story caught me up in the first few pages. We meet seven-year old Rachel Kalama, youngest child in her Honolulu family. When she is discovered to have a small leprous sore on her leg, Rachel is snatched from the bosom of her family and sent first to be "cured" in the Kahili hospital in Honolulu. After a year in Kahili, she is then sent to the Kalaupapa leper colony on Molokai. The story of Rachel and her new family on Molokai is beautiful, inspirational and very uplifting.

Character development is very strong in this story. The figure of Sister Catherine Voorhies was perhaps my favorite of the whole story, as she deals with her own personal demons as well as her own doubts of "Why does God give children leprosy?" This story is so wonderful as Rachel and her new-found 'ohana (family) rise above their disease and find dignity and love in their isolated home.

Simply one of the most moving and enjoyable books I've read in a very long time.
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112 of 119 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on October 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This gripping novel is based on the author's serious research into the history of the Kalaupapa colony for suffers of leprosy (Hansen's disease) on Moloka'i. Brennert focuses on the human tragedy, both of individual sufferers and of their families who, suffering guilt by association, were ostracized by their neighbors and employers. But he also emphasizes the personal triumphs of these patients, recognizing their dignity and celebrating their achievements. Though a leper colony can never be free from profound sadness, Brennert avoids turning this novel into a ten-hanky tearjerker, focusing instead on the lives the patients create for themselves and on their attempts at normalcy.
Rachel Kalama, the main character, is a typical 5-year-old growing up in a loving family in Honolulu when her mother first sees a sore on Rachel's leg which will not heal. Although she keeps Rachel's condition a secret for a year, Rachel is eventully seized by the health inspector, who receives a bounty for capturing her, and sent to a secure Honolulu hospital. A year later, she is sent to Kalaupapa, on Moloka'i, and her isolation--at the age of seven--is total. The "family" she develops in Kalaupapa, her friendships with other young children, and her refusal to let the disease (or any of the nuns) control her spirit make her life bearable, and the reader will admire her pluck even while dreading what her future holds.
Yet Rachel is one of those in whom the disease develops very slowly, and her story continues through her teen years, her marriage, and well beyond.
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95 of 111 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on December 23, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Moloka'i is an interesting novel about a young Hawaiian leper, Rachel, banished, as it were, to a Kalaupapa, a quarantined colony on Moloka'I, at the turn of the last century, when leprosy was a relatively misunderstood disease. The notion of the colony is fascinating and the devastation one instance of leprosy can do to one young woman and her family is rife with possibilities. Unfortunately, the novel tries to accomplish too much while not doing enough. Rachel's entire life is encompassed in this novel, yet the focus is disproportionately on her earlier years, where as a young child, the depth of her emotions is left unexplored. As she grows older, when her emotions could truly come into play, Brennert leapfrogs from event to event in Rachel's life and awkwardly ties the World War II Japanese camps to Kalaupapa. I felt almost as if Brennert began the novel with the intent of crafting a sweeping saga, but that he somehow lost steam halfway through and began to take narrative shortcuts. Moloka'i is certainly an interesting and engaging novel, but Brennert fails to draw enough of an emotional connection to Rachel. I just wish he could have done more.
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