Saturday, November 20, 2010
Moloka'i (a novel)
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
This is the story of Rachel, a young Hawaiian girl, beloved by her family and living an idyllic childhood in late eighteenth century Honolulu, who contracts leprosy at the age of seven and is ripped away from her family and the only life she's ever known and sent to live in exhile in the leper colony on the tiny island of Moloka'i. Although fictitious, this novel is populated by a number of people who actually did live, and on historical events that actually took place.
Heartwrenching as it is reading about a little girl torn from her family and sent away to live out her life diseased and orphaned, the book actually ends up being uplifting without feeling contrived or saccharine. Rachel manages to carve out a life for herself in the leper colony, becoming part of a new family of other people, young and old, living with the same disease as she, the same feelings of loss, and the same determination to live. Full of lush descriptions of the Hawaiian landscape and culture, it was easy to visualize the story as it unfolded.
I never knew a whole lot about leprosy (now called Hansen's Disease) until reading this book, which inspired me to do a little further research. What has historically been viewed as the scourge of the sinful and unclean (and is still viewed as such today in many cultures), it is actually just a bacterial infection that, tragically, causes horrific disfiguration if left untreated. Fortunately, there are very effective treatments today that arrest the disease. Knowing this, however, makes it all the more tragic how many thousands and thousands of people were stripped of everyone and everything they had and forced to live out their lives as virtual criminals in exhile.
I really enjoyed this one and highly recommend it (I read it on my iPad so don't have a copy to give away).