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An uplifting tale about a serious subject
on January 29, 2004
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.