Friday Morning Bookclub

July 12, 2010

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Filed under: Book Discussions,Book Recomendations,Historical Fiction,Moloka'i — annwalter @ 11:09 am

Bookclub Discussion

While our fridaymorningbookclubbook members were all intrigued by the workings of the leper colony, the ingenuity of the people, and its advancement over the years, it was the resilience of the Rachel’s spirit that resonated with our hearts.

Our bookclub found much to discuss intellectually and emotionally and much on which to agree and disagree and places in the book to celebrate and places to cry. Moloka’i is a the story of people’s will to triumph in even the most horrifying of circumstances.

More than half the readers rated the book with five stars or “omelets.” As discussed below, I personally did not rate it so high, but as a book club member mentioned on Friday and I so agree, in bookclub you read books you may not normally pick yourself. There was great educational value in the book for me.

About the Story

Moloka’i takes place during the late 1800’s to the 1940’s when leprosy patients were forced into isolation on the Kalaupapa peninsula on Molokai. There was incredible stigma associated with the disease of the “unclean” and whole families were ostracized if one family member had the disease.

Alan Brennert draws you into the fictional life of Rachel Kalama, a seven year old girl who is wrenched from her home and family and is sent to Kalaupapa when it is discovered she has leprosy. Under the care of the Franciscan Nuns (and seemingly abandoned by most of her family), Rachel grows up in the colony. The story tells of the life she makes for herself.

Along the way you are given glimpses into the history of Hawaii — the struggle between two cultures at a crossroads. The time period includes the coup that overthrew the monarchy, as well as the introduction of Christianity to the island vs traditional customs and beliefs.

The middle of the story moved a bit slowly for me — all these themes spanning 70 years may have been just too much to cover — but it ends poignantly with the discovery of a “cure” for leprosy and the reconciliation of Rachel with the family who seemed to have forgotten her.

More about Leprosy

Alan Brennert does a great job job of balancing fiction and non-fiction in this story and our book club found tremendous historical value in Moloka’i.  It seemed the majority of members discussing the book last Friday did not know much about leprosy before reading Moloka’i and the story really piqued our curiosity.

We wanted to know more and were motivated to do further research. Many members found youtube videos either about Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka’i or other leper colonies.

The first one is about two women who met as teenagers when they were banished to Molokai and still live there today.
Kalaupapa, Molokai — The Last Leper Colony

The second is a short video documenting a visit to Kalaupapa, which both shows its magnificence and gives a brief history.

Visit to Kalaupapa

This video is of a leper colony on Culion Island in the Philippines. Culion Island was known as The Island of the Living Dead.

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1 Comment »

  1. Ann,

    Thank you for writing such a thorough review. It’s nice to see that even though this book was not one of your favorites, you still appreciated the story and the historical content on which it was based. I enjoyed reading your comments on our discussion as well as the story itself. I also think it’s great that you included the research on leprosy. I know you’re busy but I hope to see more of your reviews!

    Comment by Audrey — July 28, 2010 @ 8:34 pm | Reply


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