• Book Club: March 2017
• Paperback: 405 pages
• Published: October 2004 by St. Martin’s Griffin
• Source: Purchased
Goodreads Description: This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai’i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place—and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.
Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.
We forgot to choose a theme for March, so I came prepared with a couple random recommendations, and everyone “ooohed” at Moloka’i, so that’s what we went with. I can’t even tell you how long I’ve wanted to read this book. Years. Many years. I’m fairly certain I suggested it at least one other time for book club. And now I finally got to read it! (This is one of the books I listed as a “priority” for my 2017 Goodreads reading challenge, so I get to mark one off my list!)
Moloka’i tells the story of Rachel, a young Hawaiian girl diagnosed with leprosy (or Hanssen’s Disease) at age six. At seven, she’s sent to the island of Moloka’i to live in the leper colony at Kalaupapa. She’s one of the lucky ones who has someone already on the island – her uncle Pono – since her parents and siblings aren’t able to join her. Rachel grows up on Moloka’i, and spends the majority of her life there with the people she comes to consider family.
I loved this book. Moloka’i might sound like a depressing story – after all, Rachel is diagnosed with a horrible disease, sent away from her family, and forced to live in exile for most of her life. She loses so much, so many people. And yet – it’s not a depressing story at all. Quite the opposite. It’s uplifting and heartwarming, because you come to see that the people who live on Kalaupapa are their own family. They build a community full of love and support. To the rest of the world they’re castoffs, but in Kalaupapa, they’re just people. There’s no stigma, no hate. It’s an emotional story, to be sure, but one that’s well done.
Book Club Discussion
We all loved Moloka’i. We loved the characters, we loved the writing, and we loved learning about a history we’d never known. We talked about how our education focused on other parts of US History, and how we realized we knew next to nothing about Hawaii. We talked about how sad it was how lepers were treated, about the stigma, and about the toll it took on families. At the same time, we talked about how the people on Kalaupapa led rich, full lives – if not easy ones.
April’s Book Club Theme: Fun and Fresh