(Lodi, California): Molokai is simply a beautiful story in which Alan Brennert features unforgettable characters. Brennert’s love of Hawaii and meticulous research are fully on display throughout the rich tale of Rachel who, at the age of 7, is diagnosed with leprosy and torn from her family and happy life in Honolulu. Exiled to a leper colony on Molokai, Rachel is raised by the Catholic nuns who run the girls’ home there. Rachel develops deep friendships with the other girls, as well as with, in particular, Sister Catherine. Rachel longs for her family back on Oahu and the prospect of returning to a normal life there, but as the years pass, and the disease remains active, thereby prohibiting her release, she draws upon the strength of those around her and the beautiful island of Molokai, as well as her Hawaiian heritage. Eventually, Rachel finds love and has a beautiful daughter with whom she is only allowed to spend a few hours before the child is cruelly taken from her lest she or her husband infect the child.
Rachel’s story spans nearly 7 decades and is told with great compassion. Brennert educates readers on the beliefs and culture of the Hawaiian people, the sadly true history of Kalaupapa, the leper colony that is today a national park on Molokai, and the suffering of real Hawaiians who, like the fictional Rachel, were ripped from their homes and families when they displayed symptoms of the disease. But Brennert’s focus is on his characters’ strengths and resilience, not their suffering.
The result is a deeply moving story that will resonate with and haunt readers long after they finish reading the book. For readers who have never been to Hawaii or experienced its beauty, spirituality, and traditions, Molokai will permit them to understand the true meaning of “aloha” and precisely why Hawaii is commonly referred to simply as “paradise.” Molokai gets my highest recommendation.