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261 of 273 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An uplifting tale about a serious subject
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...
Published on January 29, 2004 by Nancy R. Katz

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94 of 110 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls a bit short
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...
Published on December 23, 2008 by Elizabeth Hendry


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261 of 273 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An uplifting tale about a serious subject, January 29, 2004
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This review is from: Moloka'i (Hardcover)
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. Separated from her family except for occasional visits by her father and the company of her afflicted uncle, Rachel must make a new life for herself surrounded by an unusual cast of loving people. Adversity strengthens her as she comes to know the kind sister who cares for her, a fellow leper who hides a dark secret and the love of a good man whom she marries and even becomes a mother. By the end of this book, we weep with Rachel as friends die and cheer for her when she is able to fulfill some of her dreams. But the best part for me was that these were no longer characters in a book but people who I considered good friends, so vividly were they portrayed by the author.
Told over six decades, Moloka'i tells the gripping story of adversity and the triumph of the human spirit. As I neared the end of the book I couldn't help but think of how we once viewed AIDS sufferers isolating them in many of the same way lepers were also once isolated. The author has written a compelling book and one worthy to take its place among other titles on this subject like Betty Martin's books and The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama.
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78 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fifty Years on Molokai, September 21, 2004
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This review is from: Moloka'i (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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107 of 114 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Will anyone remember these girls, other than you and me?", October 30, 2003
This review is from: Moloka'i (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. Through her, Brennert shows the history of the settlement, the history of treatment for Hansen's disease, and the history of Hawaii itself, including the seizure of the Queen and the annexation and colonization of the islands by the American sugar barons (events which clearly parallel Rachel's story). Brennert enriches his novel by incorporating events described in real documents and journals into his story, from its lawless, "wild West" atmosphere at the outset, to its final development as a "home" for the people who live there. He memorializes many real people among the fictional characters, including Robert Louis Stevenson.
Though there is melodrama and sentimentality here, and Rachel's life at Kalaupapa may be more rosy-colored than it was in reality, the emotion flows naturally from the subject and the author's desire to present the full historical record. Few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel's story. As one character says, "How we choose to live with pain, injustice, or death...is the true measure of the Divine within us." Mary Whipple
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94 of 110 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls a bit short, December 23, 2008
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This review is from: Moloka'i (Paperback)
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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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible story with a wide range of emotions, September 27, 2004
By 
James Mushener (Southern California) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Moloka'i (Hardcover)
I visited Molokai and the Kalaupapa peninsula in 2000. This book is a must-read for anyone who has been there, plans to go there, or even is just interested in it. This book brought back all my memories of that visit. It truly is "sacred" ground for Hawaiians.

The author captures all of the emotions, stories, and cruel ironies of those unfortunate people who contracted this terrible disease. Rachel sees her family torn apart, faces constant discrimination, and sees her emotions ride a never-ending rollercoaster as one after another of her friends die of Hansen's Disease. The suffering these people felt is unimaginable and the emotional pain of being forcibly separated from their families is horrific. But the story is uplifting, as Rachel and the others find ways to be happy with what little they have, take pleasure in helping others, and are always hopeful of a cure which thankfully, eventually came.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new addition to my favorites list, January 16, 2007
This review is from: Moloka'i (Paperback)
There is not much to add after reading all of the glowing reviews that come before mine -other reviewers have hit my exact feelings on the mark. An inspiring story of a young girl's perserverence over a hopelessly bleak future. I am amazed at this male author's ability to bring a young woman's life and emotions to life so clearly and with such depth. I could not put this book down and anxiously waited for the moments I could get a page or two in; Rachel and her life became a part of mine. I kept forgetting that she was a fictional character; her story brought me to tears and laughter many times. I definitely recommend this book!!!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PACIFIC PARADISE??, March 1, 2007
This review is from: Moloka'i (Paperback)
Set in Hawaii more than a century ago, this is the true to life chronicle of the people of Kalaupapa, lepers separated from their family and friends by a debilitating disease, and of how they embraced their plight and lived their lives with warmth, compassion and humor.

Although the book is classified as "historical fiction" much of it examines Hawaii's beginnings and traditions. Few readers will remain unmoved by the story of Rachel Kalama, a seven year old girl whose dreams of journeying to far off lands is shattered by her diagnosis as a leper, her seperation from her family and her confinement to Kalaupapa.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, but most of all this story will haunt you and you will be drawn to read it again and again.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking in its scope and humanity, October 12, 2003
By 
Ashley Charles (Southern CA, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Moloka'i (Hardcover)
Wow, what a powerful story. If Oprah Winfrey's book club were still open to new novels then "Moloka'i" would rank right up there with "We Were the Mulvaneys" and "Bridges of Madison County". I could NOT put this book down - such is the story's "what happens next" factor! I read this book in a marathon, bleary-eyed two days -- something I haven't done since my mother gave me "Gone With The Wind" when I was 14 (reading under the covers late into the night with a flashlight!). Don't be put off by the fact that the primary antagonist in the story is the disease of leprosy: this is quickly relegated to the reader's subconscious as we become absorbed in the human drama of Rachel Kalama's life. Alan Brennert takes us back to Hawaii in the late 19th century and vividly recreates its unspoiled beauty. I was swept along with Rachel who, at the age of 7, is taken from her loving family and banished to the remote island of Moloka'i. Rachel finds her Uncle Pono (who preceded her there and is sadly the source of her own infection) and forges a new life with new friends in various stages of this devastating illness. As heartbreaking as her story is, it is also a story of hope, love, endurance and ultimately survival.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unvbelievable, November 10, 2005
This review is from: Moloka'i (Hardcover)
In my wildest dreams I would never have picked up a book about leprosy, but this was unbelievable. The book weaves history through a girl's own ordeal with the disease. You learn a lot about Hawaii's development and how they dealt with an illness for which they had no immunity. The author does a wonderful job in catching glimpses of life while the islands' dealt in erradicating this from the masses. EXCEPTIONAL!!!!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "That is what I believe in, Aouli. I believe in Hawai'i. I believe in the land.", August 13, 2011
This review is from: Moloka'i (Paperback)
"That is what I believe in, Aouli. I believe in Hawai'i. I believe in the land."

Rachel Kalama is only a girl of seven when she is taken from the loving arms of her mother and father, Dorothy and Henry Kalama, and sent to Kalaupapa, Moloka'i, a leper colony. But although Rachel is torn away from her biological 'ohana, family, she forges relationships and connections that carry her through her illness.

I chose this book for my book club because I spent almost 12 years of my childhood in Hawaii. And reading this book was like taking a walk back through my life. I may never have spent any time on Moloka'i, but I recognized many of the names and places that Rachel visits on Oahu (though she was there in 1893 and I was there in 1993).

One of the biggest, best things about this book is the setting and atmosphere. I thought Alan Brennert did an incredible job creating Hawaii in book form. I could feel it in the descriptions of the landscape, in the usage of Hawaiian names, in the very being of many of the characters (such as Haleola, Rachel's adopted aunt, who so neatly provides the quote I used for my review title). When a book makes you homesick, when a book makes you, after almost 30 years of indecision, finally figure out where your "hometown" is, that is a tremendous feat.

Overall, I really liked the characters too. I felt they were three dimensional and actually felt Hawaiian or Nisei or white or whatever ethnicity they were. Rachel, of course, is our primary character, and I thought she was a great choice. We follow her through the course of her life, the people she interacts with and bonds with, the experiences she has, the changes she sees around her. One of the highlights, I found, was in her eventual acceptance of having leprosy. Through much of the book, she desires to be cured and leave to start experiencing life. I thought it poignant how she eventually discovers that she can start experiencing life NOW with leprosy and how she shouldn't let life go on without her regardless of her health. Another aspect that really struck me was how, close to the end, she is faced with leaving Moloka'i and the challenges she has there (leaving the home she's known for 50+ years, having to integrate with people who still are biased against victims of Hansen's disease, etc.). I really liked Kenji and thought he was a very interesting character. He burned with anger against his leprosy, and I liked how Rachel was able to get him to cool it and try to embrace the world around her. He and Rachel had good chemistry that lasted far into their marriage. The character of Sister Catherine brought in the struggle of working for these poor patients, of seeing children plagued with this diseased, marred, and having to reconcile that fact with her faith. And other characters, such as Haleola, Uncle Pono, and Leilani, give a sneak peek at Hawaii's past, at love in a leper colony, and of the challenge of sexuality in the early 20th century.

What's really neat too, is that there are real people who appear in these pages. Apparently, Ambrose really did work as a superintendent, Jack London really came to Moloka'i, and others, while not real, were based on real people.

But that doesn't mean this book is without faults. Character points of view could literally change within two paragraphs, with no chapter or section break. One moment, you are reading from Rachel's POV, the next, Pono, or Haleola, or Sister Catherine. This was frustrating, keeping on top of who was saying what. Sometimes the story nearly grinds to a halt as Brennert tries to keep up with the history of the time. I understand that times are changing, but must we stop so that the characters can "catch up" with the times: with electricity, cars, refrigeration, planes, etc.? That doesn't even include the background history that goes on: several times, Rachel's story stops to fill in the blanks of what is going around in the world (such as the death of the King of Hawaii, which seems to not fit in no matter how much it impacts a character, the American take over of Hawaii, and World War II). I know it is a tricky balance, to make the world seem real and yet not spend so much time creating that background as to halt the story.

Also, the story seemed to get distracted at times, or brought up threads that didn't go anywhere. Leilani and her sexuality is a great example; Sister Catherine and her family problems seemed to be another one (what happens to her in the end??? I have no clue!). And then there are some sexual situations in the book (Rachel losing her virginity, a scene where Pono and Haleola are "getting it on", etc.) that just felt awkward and unnecessary, even if they weren't overly graphic (though I didn't need that much description when Rachel and Noaha get it on!).

I liked this book quite a bit. The setting was beautifully recreated, Brennert did a good job writing from a woman's point of view, and the story itself was touching. For the weird POV changes, the history infodumps, and the uncomfortable sexual situations (I wonder what my other book club members will think of that!), I would probably rate this 3.5 stars. And because I'm trying to be harsher with my ratings, I'll gives this 3 stars. A good book, a great story, and a beautiful land.

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Moloka'i
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert (Paperback - October 4, 2004)
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