Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i follows the life of Rachel Kalama from 1891 through 1970. In 1892, at the age of six, Rachel is diagnosed with the dreaded ma’i pākē, better known as leprosy. With no prior exposure of the disease, Hawai’i suffered a major epidemic. Rachel, like so many others, was quarantined at the hospital in Kahlihi before being sent to the leper colony on Moloka’i: Kalaupapa. At the time she was sent away, Rachel was only seven-years-old. Alone, sick, and afraid, Rachel makes the journey to the far-away island knowing she may never see her family again.
Through Rachel’s eyes, Brennert brings this era of Hawaiian history alive for his readers. He tells not only the stories of Rachel and her friends on the island, but the history of the Hawaiian people as well. Readers learn of the death of King Kalakaua, the imprisonment and overthrow of Queen Lili’uokalani, the start of Hawai’i’s statehood, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Throughout the book, the rich history of this proud island nation is interwoven through Rachel’s own story of heartache, love, and growth.
The history of the Hawaiian Islands is a sad one. It is unfortunate to me that so much of this history is not taught in American schools. So many do not know the truths of this beautiful island nation. Brennert handles the hardships of both Hawai’i and Rachel with dignity and grace. Raw emotion drives the story as Brennert holds nothing back. He reveals the good, the bad, and the ugly, and the reader can’t help but turn the page and learn more about these noble people. Whether you’re new to these facets of Hawaiian history or a true historian, I highly recommend this book.