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Moloka'i #1


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Set in Hawai'i more than a century ago, this is the story of Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, who 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.

405 pages, Paperback

First published October 21, 2003

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About the author

Alan Brennert

79 books1,865 followers
Alan Brennert is the author of the historical novels Palisades Park, Honolulu (chosen one of the best books of 2009 by The Washington Post), and Moloka'i, which won the 2006 Bookies Award, sponsored by the Contra Costa Library, for the Book Club Book of the Year (and has sold over 600,000 copies since publication). It was also a 2012 One Book, One San Diego selection. He has won an Emmy Award and a People's Choice Award for his work as a writer-producer on the television series L.A. Law, and his short story "Ma Qui" was honored with a Nebula Award. His new novel, Daughter of Moloka'i, will be published by St. Martin's Press on February 19, 2019. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alan.brennert.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 11,859 reviews
Profile Image for Julie.
4,141 reviews38.1k followers
February 13, 2019
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert is a 2004 St. Martin’s Griffin publication. (I read the 2011 Kindle version.)

I know what you're thinking. ‘You haven’t read this book yet?’

Over the years, this book has been recommended to me on more than one occasion, but I just never felt an urgent pull towards it. So, here we are in 2019 and I am just now getting around to reading it.

Although, to be honest, it was the invitation to read the follow up to this book, that gave me the added incentive to work this one into my reading schedule. Now that I have read it, I understand the incredulity of my friends who couldn’t believe hadn't read it before now.

What an incredible story!

I must confess, I knew next to nothing about this period in history. Naturally, since it has a basis in fact, I had to do a little research on it. It is worth noting, that as far I know, there are still a handful of people living in Moloka'i, and will be free to remain there the rest of their lives if they wish, as they may not feel comfortable leaving for various reasons, including the disfiguring aspects of leprosy. Still the whole scenario boggles my mind.

Since so many people have read this book, I don’t suppose anyone needs me to give them a recap of the plot. However, my personal experience with this book was one of shock, sadness, and sympathy for those incarcerated after contracting leprosy.

At the same time, this is also a story of resilience, faith, and hope. Rachel is a character I will not forget anytime soon. Her strength and approach to her unrelenting series of disappointments and losses, is truly inspirational. She took the life she was handed and made the best of it.

Of course, the book also reminds us of how terrified the general public was of leprosy, something we tend to forget in modern times. Those afflicted were obviously stigmatized, feared, and cast out. The method of quarantine was humane, but still felt as though the victim was being punished, forcing an incarceration on them as though they had broken the law. Many years later, a combination of antibiotics effectively controlled the disease, allowing those diagnosed with it to live normal lives again. In more recent times, AIDS prompted the same sort of hysteria and reactions based on fear and bias. It was hard not to make those comparisons, while reading this book, which does help to put Rachel’s plight in context.

Although I did find the writing languid at times, requiring me to refocus a time or two, this story is beautiful, powerful, and has lingered with me for days now. I do regret waiting this long to read this lovely story, so I won’t make the same mistake with the follow up. I’m looking forward to reading Ruth’s story now more than ever.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,374 reviews3,490 followers
February 13, 2021
Molokaʻi (Moloka'i #1) by Alan Brennert (Author), Anne Noelani Miyamoto (Narrator)

More than two years after I read Daughter of Moloka'i, I have been able to read Moloka'i, the book that preceded Daughter of Moloka'i. Both stories are beautiful and I wish I'd read them closer together just to have made the stories one long experience. This book relates the life of Rachel Kalama, a little girl who is diagnosed with leprosy and is banished to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i.

Around 1866, those with leprosy were shipped to Kalaupapa and dumped onto the shore with nothing, no shelter and very little to help them survive. But over the decades, the people who live there and those who work to help these people, build settlements to make life better for the sufferers and eventually to work towards a cure for the disease. When seven year old Rachel is diagnosed with leprosy, people like her were considered criminals for harboring the disease and banishment was their fate. Rachel is whisked away from her family to a medical center where she was tested in the most humiliating ways and then later, shipped to the island to live the rest of her life in the leper colony. 

Rachel arrives at Kalaupapa in the year of 1893 and unlike the first lepers who were dumped on the island to die, Rachel arrives to find a thriving community, ready to welcome all newcomers. This story is full of heartbreak, with the suffering of the people from ravished bodies but also the heartbreak of never seeing or hearing from their families again. The stigma of leprosy was such that many families completely removed the leper from their lives, pretending they didn't exist anymore, never acknowledging them by letter. The isolation of the island, added to the isolation from former friends and family, crushed many of the inhabitants of the island. 

But, despite many rules and regulations that seemed much too rigid and dogmatic, life on the island did provide it's own sense of family and community. Over the length of the story, there are so many tears, as Rachel loses everyone. But Rachel's father never forgets her, never stops being there for her. And she makes lifelong friends on the island, makes a life that is as full as any other life. For being a story about people who are diagnosed with leprosy and sent off in exile, this is a story of sacrifice and suffering but also a story of perseverance with dignity, friendship, and love. In many ways, Rachel and those with her, are able to appreciate what life for it's fragileness, in ways that fully healthy people may not be able to appreciate. 

Published February 10th 2010
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,828 reviews1,274 followers
April 5, 2011
Reading this book contained and gave me absolutely everything I love about reading. It encompasses everything I love about the reading process. I loved it so much I know I won’t be able to write a coherent or worthy review; there’s no way for me to do this story justice, except to recommend it to many, many people I know, something I’ve already started to do.

Not only couldn’t I conceive of not giving it 5 stars, it also easily made my favorites shelf.

It’s an outstanding book. Anything accurate I say will sound like hyperbole, I am sure.

I cried more with emotion than I have for all but another handful of books.

It’s a book to savor. It’s completely absorbing. It’s very hard to put down. Great storytelling!

It’s heartbreaking, heartwarming, there’s lots of pathos, but there is also plentiful humor, including humor that often comes unexpectedly, at least for me; many times during some of the most poignant moments, I'd find something hilarious. I chuckled a lot, and smiled at something on nearly every page. . It broke my heart yet lifted me up. I also learned so much, especially about Hawaiian history and culture and about the settlement on Moloka'i. It’s a fabulous book.

I’m so grateful my book club agreed to read this (okay, I finally bullied them into it) because it had been on my to-read shelf for forever, but having to read it for the group forced me to get to it.

I cared tremendously about so many of the characters, particularly Rachel Kalama, but really most of them are compelling. The settings are so spot on amazing and as I reader I really felt as though I was there, every step of the way.

It’s about a life/lives and never for a moment does the experience of being with them feel less than 100% authentic. Rachel: every moment with her feels genuine, everything about her and how she is makes sense at every stage of her life.

I absolutely loved all the Hawaiian words interspersed throughout, all with their English counterparts right with them so their meaning was always apparent.

And, if this historical fiction book couldn’t be more perfect, there is an author’s note at the end where the author lets the reader know a few real people a few characters were based on and lists the sources used for the research done to in general recreate the time and place. A stellar job was done, as far as I can tell. There are a bunch of books, and information about them, listed in the back of this novel, and I am tempted to read some of them, but honestly, this book sated me; even though it was fiction, I feel I couldn’t have come away with more edification from any non-fiction account; that’s how good this novel is. Every time I thought it was amazing, something else happened that made it even more so. Over and over and over again.

I talked with a friend as I was reading this book, and she reminded me that either our fourth grade teacher or his brother, who at the time was a Christian missionary in the Philippines, had worked on Moloka’i, working with the residents who had Hansen’s disease. That bit of information solved a puzzle for me: I couldn’t remember why when I was nine and ten I was fascinated by and afraid of leprosy, couldn’t remember how I even knew about the disease. And, I’m sure it’s one of the reasons this book appealed to me as soon as I knew about it; I was fascinated. So, yes, I had a predilection for being able to enjoy the subject of this novel. But, I highly recommend this book to anyone who ever enjoys historical fiction novels, coming of age novels, cross cultural stories, stories with child protagonists, anyone interested in Hanesn's Disease or the history of medicine, or anything about Hawaii and/or its history, and all readers who can appreciate a gripping story.
Profile Image for *TUDOR^QUEEN* .
503 reviews559 followers
January 6, 2019
St. Martin's Press recently offered me the book "Daughter of Moloka'i" for review, which I accepted. However, when I read its synopsis, it hearkened back to its preceding tome, "Moloka'i", which was a huge bestseller originally published in 2003. As of this writing, the original book is on sale for kindle at $2.99 on amazon, so I decided to purchase it and read it prior to reading its sequel. I expected this to be a quality book because of its rave reviews, and I wasn't disappointed. I don't usually gravitate towards books that take place in island settings, but the richness of the story enveloped me regardless.

This story is about a little girl named Rachel Kalama who lived in Honolulu in the late 1800s. She was just seven years old, the favorite daughter of her father Henry. Henry was a sailor who would go on expeditions lasting for months, and would always bring Rachel back a special doll to add to her collection.

Rachel's idyllic life takes a violent turn when the Health Inspector who visits schools discovers that Rachel has leprosy. During this time, anyone found to have contracted leprosy is removed from the island and thus their family. They are taken to a special settlement on another Hawaiian island designated for leprosy patients. Franciscan nuns run a home for the children where they are lovingly cared for. Often times, a person would live the rest of their life at this settlement. There is a church, general store, and rations of food meted out to the settlement's occupants. People are provided homes to live in. The nuns clean wounds and change bandages, but there are also doctors on the settlement who try valiantly to come up with treatments to stave off the advancement of leprosy. At first glance, one could be startled and even horrified to witness some of the facial deformities, but after living amongst these people for awhile, they just became people you were comfortable being around...the new normal. There were varied forms and intensities of this disease; for some people their sores were hidden in discreet places like on a thigh or an ankle; in others, their faces and digits on their hands and feet would be ravaged by the disease. One physician had a theory he explored of surgically removing any sores that would appear. However, it would take decades before a sulfa-based antibiotic was produced that halted the disease in its tracks, much like the "cocktail" of meds AIDS patients take today that return their lives to a modicum of normalcy.

The story of Rachel is an epic one; it follows her from her childhood home and school to her abrupt and frightening transfer to the leprosy colony at Kalawao, and the many milestones her life advances through until her death. It is a story of love, strength, bravery and family. I never knew the nuts and bolts of the medical history of leprosy, and this made for a very interesting / educational topic throughout the story. I am very glad I read this as a precursor to reading the upcoming "Daughter of Moloka'i". Often times you can read a follow-up book as a standalone, but having read the original story "Moloka'i" I will approach the next installment with even more anticipation.
Profile Image for Hannah.
798 reviews
October 31, 2011


Squandered potential.

Lacks "soul"

These are a few of the things that immediately sprang to mind after finishing Molika'i. After reading several 2 star reviews here on Goodreads by more gifted reviewers then myself, I really can't add much more without becoming repetitive.

Suffice it to say, this book had so much potential. So much possibility. And although a vast majority of readers thought it met (and exceeded) those parameters, for me it fell flat.

I wanted my soul to be moved while reading this. I wanted my heart to be engaged. I wanted to feel real sympathy for these fictional characters played out against a very non-fictional aspect of history. Instead, I yawned - frequently. I looked to see how many pages were left. I got tired of the innumerable instances of "info-dumping" (and plotline wrangling in order to create the "info-dump" moment). I thought of how a writer like my favorite M.M. Kaye would have handled this scene or that situation. I got frustrated over the shallow writing and the contemporary feel of a story that was supposed to take place over 100 years ago. And finally, I closed the book and was sad that what could have been an awesome story fell flat for me (expecially since I've been on a run of mediocre reads lately).

This is a minority opinion - but it's mine. Hope it's a better read for others.
Profile Image for James.
Author 20 books3,988 followers
April 2, 2018
Alan Brennert's Moloka'i is a beautifully written and moving tale of a young girl's interaction with a leprosy colony throughout her life time. The impacts on her life as she grows older are tremendous and she loses friends and family around her fighting her own battles to survive.

The story and characters will tug at your heartstrings and push you into thinking more about your own life -- and the good you have in it. If you're able to hear someone else's plight to survive, and you can empathize with such painful scars, you will love this book. But beware it can be sad at times.

Knowing so much of this is true, and how we as people treat one another, can be hard to swallow. It was a different time, and medicine and technology weren't what they are today... but still... it takes books like these to show us the error of our ways.
Profile Image for Juliana.
121 reviews22 followers
February 29, 2008
One of my favorite books, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, delves into the crazy idea that people don’t have to be miserable when the world around them is. Moloka’i is another such book. The message: life isn’t over until it’s over.

Separated from everything dear to her, the heroine of this book, Rachel, learns at a young age that life can still provide her with simple joys—and profound fulfillment. And though she spends many moments peeking into the abyss of despair, she also spends moments rescuing others from the black chasm of regret.

She encounters those who choose to allow their circumstances to define them, bitterness festering into hatred, until they are a shell of a human. She meets those who allow bitterness to overcome them despite the blessings and freedom she has longed so desperately for. This novel highlights that the human race is endowed with the ability to choose happiness…or to choose despair:

“God didn’t give man wings; He gave him the brain and the spirit to give himself wings,” counsels Rachel’s friend. “Just as He gave us the capacity to laugh when we hurt, or to struggle on when we feel like giving up. I’ve come to believe that how we choose to live with pain, or injustice, or death…is the true measure of the Divine within us. Some … choose to do harm to themselves and others. Others … bear up under their pain and help others to bear it.”

This historical novel chronicles the lives of those who lived on the island of Moloka’i: a colony of “lepers” who are outcast from their families, friends and the lives that were once commonplace. At times the colony is attended to and kept clean and up-to-date. At times, it is in ruins and neglected by the various governments who fly their flags on it’s shore. And mirroring the settlement are people who can choose whether they have come there to watch their life fall into ruin—or whether they have gone there to discover a new, if unexpected, life.

When Rachel first lands on the shores as a young child, she turns away, sickened, from the people who greet her with smiles. Later she learns to accept and love these people. She also learns to accept herself and the trials that have been handed to her: “Friends called out to her; the surf beckoned to her; her horse, on seeing her, happily nuzzled her neck. This was life, and if some things were kapu [or forbidden], others weren’t; she had to stop regretting the ones that were and start enjoying the ones that were not.”

This novel is also threaded with themes of religion, culture, family life and politics. Each piece flows together seamlessly, making this a novel that I would heartily recommend to others.

First words: "Later, when memory was all she had to sustain her, she would come to cherish it: Old Honolulu as it was then, as it would never be again."

Note: because of several graphic scenes, I would not recommend this book for a young audience. Although frankly, most books I read are not geared toward a young audience...
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews11.3k followers
July 3, 2016
Update: I never wrote a full review of this book. I read it before I joined Goodreads. --Its 'still' a favorite!
If you've never read about the ways the community reacted to leprosy during its day --this book gives you the experience. (pretty sad)
A young girl is removed from her family --sent to the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'.
We meet many vibrant characters on the island and watch Rachel grow up --I laughed -and cried. This story has stayed with me for approx. 13 years. --Wonderful scenes....(surf boarding...before surf boards?) -- etc.

Reading "Molokai" is a readers gift!

I Just looked at my old little review ---wishing for Alan to come visit us in the Bay Area....
He did! Great time! I've been on his personal e-mail list with his updates ever since.
He has a new novel coming out next year --He returns to his favorite island: "Hawaii".


I loved this book. I gave it as a gift to at least 4 of 5 friends ---

A beautiful story!

Our Goodreads woman's group has voted to read *Molokai* for next month (May: my birthday month)!

I look forward to our engaging discussions!

It would be 'very cool' if Alan Brennert could join us! (I'm hoping to hear him speak next year in the Bay Area when he introduces his new book in 2013), He put a request in to 'speak' in our area! Hope so! GREAT man --who loves 'The Islands'.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,217 reviews1,286 followers
April 15, 2017
Moloka'i is a book that sums up for me why I love historical fiction. I need to learn something with each book that I read and and I love my history to read like fiction and with Moloka'i you get all these wonderful elements and more.

I really enjoyed this novel and I had thought from reading the blurb that this was going to be a depressing read and but Alan Brennert has a way of telling a story and getting the point across without dragging the Novel down and making it depressing. I loved the way Brennert deals with human tragedy of both the patients and the families, I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel as I felt their sadness but also their joy and achievements.

I love the picture that Brennert painted of the Island, the setting and atmosphere is so real and I was able to conjure up images of the Island in my head and that’s when you know you are going to love a story.

The characters in this novel are wonderful and real, I loved all of them and how they became a community who watched out and cared for each other and dealt with sadness and loss everyday and yet lead full lives for themselves.

I enjoyed learning about the history of Hawaii and feel the author did a great job in researching this book.

I really enjoyed this novel its historical fiction at its best.
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,787 reviews12k followers
June 12, 2020
Deeply moving.

A touching testimony to the human spirit and what ohana truly means.

This one will stay with me.

If you are a fan of Historical Fiction, you won't regret picking this up.

Profile Image for Richard Derus.
3,168 reviews2,096 followers
August 23, 2017
Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Young Rachel Kalama, growing up in idyllic Honolulu in the 1890s, is part of a big, loving Hawaiian family, and dreams of seeing the far-off lands that her father, a merchant seaman, often visits. But at the age of seven, Rachel and her dreams are shattered by the discovery that she has leprosy. Forcibly removed from her family, she is sent to Kalaupapa, the isolated leper colony on the island of Moloka'i.

In her exile she finds a family of friends to replace the family she's lost: a native healer, Haleola, who becomes her adopted "auntie" and makes Rachel aware of the rich culture and mythology of her people; Sister Mary Catherine Voorhies, one of the Franciscan sisters who care for young girls at Kalaupapa; and the beautiful, worldly Leilani, who harbors a surprising secret. At Kalaupapa she also meets the man she will one day marry.

True to historical accounts, Moloka'i is the story of an extraordinary human drama, the full scope and pathos of which has never been told before in fiction. But Rachel's life, though shadowed by disease, isolation, and tragedy, is also one of joy, courage, and dignity. This is a story about life, not death; hope, not despair. It is not about the failings of flesh, but the strength of the human spirit.

My Review: This historical novel is about a time and a place most of us don't pay a lot of attention to. Hawaii is a state now, fifty-three years of statehood, but there are many Hawaiians who don't feel like they're American, only Hawaiian and that's enough for them. The USA might rule over Hawaii, but its contributions to Hawaii's history are recent...not yet 150 years out of over 1,000 of history...and, if there is any justice in this world, ephemeral.

Part of that contribution is told in this angering, awful tale of the injustices once thought unremarkable that were the lot of mixed-race Hawaiians, as well as the pragmatic but inhumane exile of lepers from their lives and families to the island of Moloka'i. Rachel is our heroine, a child taken from home and family because of leprosy. Her life on Molokai, from childhood to death, is full, and rich, and replete with love; it's also terribly heart-breakingly sad, as all lives are, with loss and sacrifice and connections made late, too late, that can never be made what they were meant to be.

Rachel's daughter Ruth, at Rachel's funeral, meditates on what self-sacrifice gave her, and cost her, at the end of the book:

“...I'm lucky, you see: I had two mothers. One gave life to me; one raised me. But they both loved me. You know, some people don't even get that once.

“It took me a while to say the words 'I love you' to my {birth mother}. It was a different kind of love than I felt for my {adoptive mother}, but founded on the same things. … There's only one disadvantge, really, to having two mothers,” Ruth admitted. “You know twice the love...but you grieve twice as much.”
(p382, US hardcover edition)

I had a mother I wasn't fond of, I had a stepmother I was fond of, and I had superlative good fortune in having older female friends who mothered me and supported me in ways my own mother would not have wanted, or been able, to do. I've grieved the various losses as they've happened, and wondered what it would mean to grieve one mother, one time, with one whole and undivided heart.

But it's when I read this passage again that I realize my heart wasn't divided. It was multiplied, many many times, by the gift of so much love and kindness I received from them. So for Jan, and Irene, and Jo, and Nina...all gone but one...I thank you again for helping form who I am. I refer to your examples when I am in doubt. I keep working to be more like each of you in giving more than I'm asked for.

For Alan Brennert, thank you good sir for your ever and always timely reminder that love makes families as much as birth does.

This is obviously a novel that went to the root of my experience in the world, but it's not by any means a perfect novel. It's not hugely beautiful, it's instead heartfelt and deeply experienced. It's sentimental, in a good way, and it's also got a healthy dose of sentimentality in a bad way. But on balance, reading through the pages, my thoughts overruled the rolling of my eyes as I felt my way through the life of Rachel the mixed-race leper. Her world, and her places in it, were evoked fully in Brennert's somewhat heavy prose. Pages did not fly up to meet my fingers, they waited for me to come and turn them with the stolid stodgy heaviness of poi...stickier and heavier than potatoes, not quite adhesive enough to be glue.

So don't go into this read thinking the linguistic arabesques will delight and amaze you in their lightness and nimbleness, and the rich, satisfying prose carving a truthful, worthwhile woodcut of a story will reward you.
Profile Image for Melki.
6,411 reviews2,447 followers
January 12, 2015
This is an ambitious novel that covers many tumultuous and eventful decades of history.

It should also be subtitled When Every Bad Thing Happens to One Person.

You don't expect a novel about a leper colony to be the feel-good read of the year, but gee willikers...

I was reminded of the moment in films when one character says "It can't get any worse than this!" and immediately it starts pouring.

Having leprosy and being snatched away from loved ones is not BRUTAL ENOUGH. Being exiled and forced to live in abject poverty is not BAD ENOUGH. ALL characters must SUFFER and it is always the WORST OF TIMES. All this misery so the characters can keep smiling, shining through and plugging away. I know, I know...this is supposed to show the triumph of the human spirit, and while piling every awful thing on the shoulders of one character worked so well for me in Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, here, it grated and annoyed.

I'm going to blame it on the writing.

There is something truly irritating about Brennert's writing style that I just can't put my finger on...is it overly dramatic, too grandiose, too hand-wringing? I don't know, but it wore me down.

This honestly isn't bad enough to be a BAD book. It should provide good book club fodder. My real life book club will be hashing this over on Thursday night, and I'm guessing the overwhelming majority will have loved it, no doubt, as tales of plucky heroines who overcome stiff odds are always popular.

For me personally, I'm going to put this down to an interesting and involving story, not well told.
Profile Image for Brittany McCann.
2,111 reviews477 followers
January 14, 2024
Wow.... this book was a LOT. Before reading this book, I feel so ignorant for never knowing about the leprosy island colony in Hawaii: Moloka'i. It is apparent from the beginning that Alan Brennert took on extensive research to remain as true to the reality of the time period as he could in this telling. I had literally NO idea! Then I spent a crap ton of time learning about it and leprosy (Hansen's disease) in general.

Alan Breenert took this topic on beautifully. Rachel was a well-done narrative voice. But the single thing that makes this book shine and brings it to life is Anne Noelani Miyamoto's spectacular narration. Please tell me this beautiful voice narrates other books because I want to listen to her more. She has now reached my top favorite narrative voices, with Marin Ireland still holding on to her title.

Moloka'i is told in chronological parts through the ages of Rachel Kalama, who, at 7 years of age, is diagnosed with leprosy and sent to be quarantined at Moloka'i in the late 1800s. The youngest age, Rachel, is the strongest of the entire book, while the coming of age section felt like the weakest. Rachel, as a young adult, is also a strong section, and Rachel is a middle-aged woman. Rachel's final telling as an older woman is again a bit weak but necessary.

There is a wonderful cast of phenomenal characters, such as Rachel's father, Henry, her uncle Kapono, and her friend Haleloa. All her friends on the island, such as Sister Catherine and Leilani, and of course, I had a soft spot for Kenji.

Brennert brings Rachel to life, and it is hard not to empathize with her and all she and others go through. This is worth the read for sure! I would LOVE to go to see the sights brought to life before my eyes one day.

A weird but hilarious quote that made me say What?!?:
"His handshake was soft and gentle, like the brushing of a leaf.:

4.5 stars rounded up to 5 for me.
Profile Image for Jasika.
8 reviews
October 26, 2011
Surely the worst book of which I have ever read half. I kept thinking, "No self-proclaimed best seller can be THIS bad...it's got to get better, its GOT to get BETTER!" But it didn't. I picked it up at the book store after visiting Lana'i, Hawaii for the first time and becoming enraptured by the culture and the land there, and fascinated by what the people must have been like pre-colonialism. From page one I knew there was little hope for this "historical fiction" book to be better than trite, but even worse was that it was BARELY educational. Very little historically accurate information was provided. I don't consider myself to be a very talented writer, but I found myself reworking every single page of this book that I read- it was like it didnt even have an editor that looked over it. The dialogue was the most laughable part, though. For a book that is supposed to take place in the early 1900's, I was completely appalled when the characters said things like "Hey" and "How's it going?" Its been a while since I took English Lit classes and paid attention to the vernacular of early settlers in new lands, but COME ON! British colonizers didn't use that language and neither would the Hawaiians that had been taught english. Terrible book, with a sappy, unbelievable story line and a bland preaching of morality. I considered it a waste of my time to have read as many pages of this book as I did, but I couldn't help it....I am an optimist :)
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :) .
1,070 reviews3,354 followers
March 2, 2019
This richly imagined novel, set in Hawaii 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 who is a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose colored mark appears on her skin and those dreams are stolen from her. She is taken from her home and family and 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.

With a vibrant cast of vividly described characters, Moloka"i is the true to life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor and compassion of this novel that "few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel's story" (mostlyfiction.com).

I loved this book. I learned so much about Hawaii and how leprosy was treated more than 100 years ago. The spirit of Rachel is very inspiring.
Profile Image for Debbie W..
823 reviews690 followers
August 26, 2020
Why did I give this story 4.5 (round up to 5) stars?

1. I learned that during the 19th and 20th centuries, hundreds of people - men, women and children - were tragically separated from their loved ones and sent to Kalaupapa, a leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i to live out the rest of their days while suffering the debilitating effects of leprosy, as well as the ostracization from others, sometimes even from their own families.
2. My heart went out to the main character, Rachel, who as a 7-year old child, contracts leprosy and is forced to live on Moloka'i. I felt her confusion, her fears, and at times, her delights, over the many years that she lives on this island.
3. The story is told in 3rd person POV, not only from Rachel, but from several characters, adding to the richness and knowledge of this story.
4. My emotions for the characters were all over the place!
5. I learned a lot about the Hawaiian culture - its beliefs, traditions, food, language.
6. The inclusion of a map highlighting various communities on the Hawaiian islands as well as the Author's Note, was extremely beneficial.
7. I'm definitely looking forward to reading MOLOKA'I'S DAUGHTER!

Only one issue niggled at me - thoughts and dialogue sometimes sounded too 21st century (IMO).

Overall, if you are a fan of historical fiction and want to learn about an obscure and devastating piece of history, I recommend that you read this book!
Profile Image for Wendy.
1,760 reviews614 followers
February 15, 2017
I nominated and re-read this novel for book club and was thrilled when our members felt the same way about this story as I did.
I have yet to come across an author who not only writes heart breaking yet heart warming stories but also the beautifully artistic way he depicts the beauty that is the Hawaiian islands.
Rachel, the narrator, is one of the strongest characters I've had the pleasure to live through twice. Her story is powerful and one that has stayed with me for seven years thus far.
I could truly feel this author's work being a labour of love and this is what has made it one of my all-time favourite books.
Honolulu and Palisades Park, both by Alan Brennert are wonderful reads as well.
Profile Image for Karen.
215 reviews22 followers
June 10, 2011
All I can say is that this book broke my heart. Over and over again.

It reminded me of my response to the book The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, as it shed light on a time and place in history in which I was very ignorant. In the course of reading The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I learned something about the Internment of Japanese Americans (in Seattle area) during WWII.

In the case of Moloka'i, I learned much about the leper colony on this small island of Hawaii in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Moloka'i, by contrast was a much more intimate and raw account of these events, in my opinion. It was also very detailed and many of the political figures and certainly the locations were factual. I am sure Rachel's story is not unique and not entirely fictitious, which is just a haunting and heart-wrenching thought.

It did have a nice ending. But the 380+ pages in between were nothing less than tragic and emotionally exhausting. If you are interested in stories of perseverance, discrimination, real human survival, and family ties, you will so appreciate this book! I highly recommend it. (But keep a box of tissue at the ready!) This is also a great read for men as well as women.
Profile Image for Lance Greenfield.
Author 155 books243 followers
February 17, 2015
All because of fear

Unfounded fear, unbounded love, exile, cruelty, death, suffering, prejudice and, most of all, sacrifice. It is all there, in this beautiful story.

There is already enough description of the actual story on the fly leaf and all of the other reviews, but this is a wonderful book. It is well researched, and clearly based on fact. If any aspiring writer wants a lesson in character development, they need look no further than Moloka’i. There are so many prominent characters in this book; all of them are beautifully crafted.

I was advised to “have a tissue or two on hand.” That advice turned out to be inadequate. I could have done with a couple of buckets to catch the tears that I shed whilst reading this book.

I would strongly recommend it to all.
Profile Image for Poonam.
605 reviews531 followers
August 8, 2016
4.5 stars

This story was an eye-opener. It deals with the topic of Leprosy also known as Hansen's disease...

Frankly speaking I never thought much about Leprosy and ashamed to say neither did I know much about this disease. The only thing that came to mind when hearing the word Leprosy is distorted features.....

This story is based in the late 19th century when Leprosy was a major disease and there was no known cure for the same.
This is a fictional story of a Leprosy patient based on true historical events. This can be an issue for some of the readers but I was fine with this as the fictional part of the story was blended well with the political and social changes happening during that time. Also as per the Author's note at the end, the story was well researched and few of the supporting characters have reference to real people living at that time period

The story start's with Rachael a 5 year old, her loving but strict mother, her loving elder siblings and her father who is a sailor traveling foreign lands most of the time but adores Rachel a lot. When she is afflicted with Leprosy at the age of 6, we see how she is torn away from her family and how this disease effects her family dynamics. How people with religious belief's at that time believe this is a result of sin in individuals and how the whole family is shunned. It was heart-breaking to see a young child, baffled by everything that is happening to her and the treatment she receives because of something that is no fault of hers. Leprosy is not just a physical disease but it effects the patients and the people close to them mentally as well.

She is torn away from her family and sent to Moloka'i- A Leper Colony. In real, there was an actual leper colony in Mokola'i and the folks affected by Leprosy were transported there and declared dead in the society.
Here slowly and gradually she forms a new life which is not very simple when there is malady and death all around. We are taken on a journey with Rachel and see things through her eyes for her life span. There are unlikely friendships formed, love found, hope & happiness found even in dire conditions.

There were many true historical events such as America taking over Hawaii and downfall of the Hawaiian Royal family, World war, New technological advancements, Natural disasters and finally a Breakthrough in the cure of this dreaded disease.
Each event is very well interwoven with our story and we see how these big events have an impact on the Leper colony.

There is also an aspect of people from different religions such as Christianity, Buddhism and the old Hawaiian ways staying together and respecting each others belief's.
Stories of Hawaiian folklore has been blended in the story, which I found really interesting and it had me googling and reading more about it.

This book was not a simple story for me but much more as it made me aware of a lot of things I had no idea about (I was actually online searching a lot of events and stories described in this book)
Below is an actual live photo I found online of the Leper Colony of Moloka'i. At present there are still a few patients living there.

This story made me feel very emotional and gave me a craving to be with my family. There were parts that made me smile and parts that made me weep. It has effected me on an emotional level.

The book can feel long sometimes but I will still recommend this book to anyone who want's to read a different story which at times distressing can still provide hope.
Profile Image for Camie.
939 reviews229 followers
March 23, 2016
"God doesn't give anyone leprosy. He gives us, if we choose to use it, the spirit to live with leprosy, and with the imminence of death. Because it is in our own mortality that we are most divine."
Anyone who knows my families health history will know why this book spoke to me. There's nothing like a heaping helping of illness to change ones perspective on life. Rachel is just seven years old when she is taken from her family and banished to the island Moloka'i having been found to have Leprosy. This is a very well researched work of historical fiction that is made even more heartrending as it's based on the lives of many Hawaiians who actually faced this tragic fate in the early twentieth century. Scorned, feared, and exiled they confront lives altered by a disease that threatens to slowly destroy them both body and soul. It's been awhile since I read a book that I had to set down several times just to regroup. 5 stars
Profile Image for Britany.
1,038 reviews463 followers
September 12, 2015
What a heartbreaking story-- one that always seemed to seep desolation and loneliness. I was prepared to be emotionally invested and from one tragic event to the next I didn't full lose it until the very end. . Rachel, the narrator is one of the strongest characters I've had the pleasure to live through. She is shipped to Moloka'i at 7 years old because she tested positive to Leprosy. Forced to leave behind her family and friends, and everything she ever knew to be quarantined on an island with fellow lepers. Powerful story and one that I don't think I'll likely forget.

I don't think I've read anything else regarding this disease, and I was intrigued from the beginning. Now, I'm wanting to find out more about this time in our history.Tough subject matter-- certainly couldn't recommend to everyone, but highly recommend for those that enjoy historical fiction.
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
955 reviews2,069 followers
January 4, 2017
Moloka'i is tale of Rachel. She was diagnosed with Leprosy at an early age. As was the tradition, she had to leave her family and go to a far away place called Moloka'i. Severed from loved ones, initial days at Moloka'i were very tough for her. Only consolation was the presence of her uncle Pono at the Island. But soon Rachel comes to terms with her new life at this new place. She made friends, found love and solace but also went through the pain of losing and giving up loved ones for their own safety.

One of the most touching thing about this book is relationship among characters and their acceptance of who they're. If someone had lost hope, others were there to be their strength and hold them together. They inspired each other to let go of hatred and love others.

I always love when through a book I come to know about the history and culture of a place. And this book is a real treat. Author has painted a vivid picture of Moloka'i and Hawaii, it's people, their myths, the tales and its traditions. How people treated Leprosy and it's victims in early 1900s to how WW effected this secluded place. Everything was described so beautifully, which also left me trembling many a times.

I really enjoyed reading this and it also left me emotionally drained but satisfied with its end. A beautiful tale of survival, love, friendship and sacrifices.
Profile Image for Brian.
736 reviews396 followers
December 12, 2023
“It’s a hard thing, to love someone and not be able to show it.”

This is a text that came into my life through a book club. I had never heard of it, or its subject matter, before. It took me a while to read it, and I did not think often about wanting to pick it up, but every time I did I was captured. An odd experience.

MOLOKA’I is a historical fiction account of a real leper colony that was in Hawaii. This novel takes place starting in 1891 and ends in 1970, and it clips along, covering a lot of material in a pretty quick pace. We follow one Rachel Kalama from pre diagnosis, until death, experiencing the life of one who lives (and Rachel certainly does live a life) with leprosy. The text flows very cinematically, as it does not belabor any point. It presents it, and moves on. And I liked that about this book.

There really are not villains in this piece. Just people. And most people are not really bad, they just sometimes make bad decisions. I appreciate writers who remember that fact. Author Alan Brennert does not take cheap shots at targets that popular culture seems to always take cheap shots at. He does not go after low hanging fruit in this novel, and I marveled that his depictions of the Catholic Church were thoughtful. Lesser writers would have painted the easy (cheap) target of the “unfeeling church”, proselytizing before caring about the individual. But Brennert does not do that. Instead his people of the church are decent (sometimes amazing) humans, with good intentions, sometimes poor execution, but usually good hearted. I appreciated his effort to not paint cheap villains, but instead to give a humanity and realistic depth to his multi-faceted characters and their motives.

• “…and the thought draped itself around her, warm and comforting as a favorite blanket: she wasn’t alone here.”
• “…after a while the fear became a constant, cold companion, a simple fact of existence.”
• “…for a while, at least, the ocean washed everything away. “
• “I believe in Hawai’i. I believe in the land.”
• “Fear is good. In the right degree it prevents us making fools of ourselves. But in the wrong measure it prevents us from fully living. Fear is our boon companion, but never our master.”
• “…and they sat here wordlessly, sharing more than silence.”
• “The sea is always in command, humanity an invited guest; those who did not respect that did not return.”
• “I’ve come to believe that how we choose to live with pain, or injustice, or death…is the true measure of the Divine within us.”
• “It wasn’t right. But it’s over.”

One of the best things about MOLOKA’I is that the book does not focus on the negative. It focuses on living and life, acknowledging the positive and the negative as part of that process. I for one found that very refreshing. We will experience both good and bad repeatedly throughout this journey called life. And neither should dominate our choices.

A note, this edition of the text features a short “Get to Know the History” section at the end that I found to be a nice complement to the book.
Profile Image for Warwick.
880 reviews14.8k followers
April 7, 2016
By-the-numbers ‘exotic’ historical fiction about the leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Moloka‘i at the end of the nineteenth century. The language is an ungainly mixture of anachronistic modernisms (‘she gave him the stink-eye’), boring clichés (‘harsh glare’, ‘warm glow’), and metaphorical flourishes that fall flat (‘Dorothy felt something wet fall on her leg, unexpected as a drop of rain on a sunny day’). Brennert is a veteran screenwriter for shows like L.A. Law, and much of the dialogue here performs the sort of brisk exposition that is acceptable in a well-directed TV film but which feels rather artless and clumsy in running prose. I'm sounding overly harsh here – the book isn't offensively bad, and people who generally enjoy this kind of novel will definitely get more enjoyment out of this one than I did. Brennert has done his research, I'll say that, but in my case I quickly realised that I'd rather be reading the books in the bibliography than the novel he turned them into; I bailed after a hundred pages, which is pretty unusual for me.
Profile Image for Emily May.
2,055 reviews311k followers
May 17, 2016
I love it when historical fiction manages to be both informative about a time and place I knew nothing about, and emotionally crushing. Oh, okay, that may be a bit dramatic - it's not that much of a depressing book. But still, Rachel's story made me cry :(
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,811 reviews1,444 followers
June 23, 2011

I want to make it very clear; those of you who are looking for a book of historical fiction on life in Hawaii, look no further - this is your book. Do not make the mistake I made by first trying Shark Dialogues. I could not complete Shark Dialogues. Moloka'i will teach you about life in Hawai through the 1900s. It will teach you about leprosy, today called Hansen's Disease. I thought I knew quite a bit about this disease. This book proved me wrong. I learned so much. This book brings the horrors of this disease to you, the reader, as a mighty punch in the stomach. I learned so much. Besides learning about the disease, I learned about Hawaii. I feel I can now smell it and see it and feel it. The mositure, the pounding surf, the majestic mountains, cliffs and crumbling paths mounting the peaks. You learn not only about the physical landscape but also native Hawaiian customs and belifs.The reason why I give this book four stars is that I learned so much. The historical and medical facts are presented in the framework of an engaging tale.

There is an excellent author's note at the end. It explains what is fact and what is fiction. Several of the characters are based on true experiences and real people. So much history is reflected in this book. Not merely the treatment of leprosy, but also the death of King Kaläkua, the reign of Queen Lili'uokalani, the American take-over, WW2 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, fires, the tsunami, the marvels of invention that characterize the early 1900s, the Depression, all of this is covered from the Hawaiian perspective. It is fascinating to read this book.

Rachel is the main protagonist of the book. Her life is very difficult and heart-wrenching, but there is humor. That which happens in her life makes the reader understand how it might feel to be a leper then, there, in Hawaii, in the 1900s. The style of writing is straight-forward. The circumstances and facts are presented so you come to understand the people who suffered the stigma of leprosy and the events of the times.
Profile Image for Barbara.
305 reviews318 followers
April 3, 2020
When I think of Hawaii I think of breathtaking landscapes and pleasantly warm temperatures, not its history of Hansen's disease, better known as leprosy. I had little knowledge of the disease before reading this book. My fond memories of this beautiful state, the desire to learn more about leprosy, and all the positive reviews piqued my interest and were instrumental in my decision to read this.

Alan Brennert did a fine job researching this tragic blemish in Hawaii's history. Being quarantined by COVID19 can't be nearly as bad as being quarantined on the remote (although beautiful) island of Kalaupapa in the leper colony of Molokai. Through the words and actions of the main characters we learn about the progression of the disease, the coping mechanisms of those afflicted, as well as the courage, strength, and fear of the inhabitants.

I enjoyed this book but didn't love it. I certainly understand why so many readers rated it 5 stars. I love historical fiction and I love learning something new, especially when it motivates me to further research the topic as this book did. I'm not sure if it is my somber mood during this bizarre time period or some element missing in Brennert's writing but I'm sorry to say I didn't enjoy this enough to read the sequel.
Profile Image for Erin.
60 reviews207 followers
January 29, 2009
I was watching a high speed car chase on television yesterday and something ACTUALLY HAPPENED. This is amazing, because Los Angeles probably generates about 3 high speed car chases a week and they are all INCREDIBLY BORING. This is because there is approximately 2353459845 miles of high way in Los Angeles and all of it is full of cars, all the time, making the general highest speed for a high speed car chase about, ohhhhh.... 20 mph.

(I guess that technically means there's actually about 2353459845 miles of parking lot in LA, but whatever.)

The point is, usually the perp pulls onto a crowded highway, runs into a barrier/off the shoulder/into thousands of stopped cars, and is immediately apprehended. You always know what is going to happen.

That's pretty much how I felt about this book when I picked it up. It even felt heavy in my hands, like I knew I was holding one of those car wrecks you can't take your eyes off. Did I really want to spend the next six hour flight sniffling into my 2 ply Southwest Airlines napkin?

I was hooked on the leprosy colony thing, though. Leprosy is a fascinating disease, and I'm not trying to sound like bad dialogue from one of the CSI spinoffs. It's a disease that takes away your nerve endings. Imagine breaking a toe and not being able to feel it--- so you just keep walking on it till it falls off. Whoa.

Plus lepers were always running around in the Bible during my childhood sunday school lessons, and since I was a little confused on the terminology, I spent grades kindergarten through 3rd thinking lepers were people with canes who farmed "LEmon PEppER". Thanks Bobby Chris. If I ever meet you again I'm going to punch you in the face for feeding me that.

Anyway, time to rectify the situation. I know the style of writing was dry for some (the term "plodding" consistently comes to mind when I try to think of a summary for the pace) but I think it served the author's purpose. He wanted to accurately represent the history of the colony and the people in it, through the eyes of one fictitious character. That's challenging. Sometimes it read like a list of death, but I understood, from the very beginning... this car wreck is involves an incurable and deforming disease, and as such, bad thing after bad thing is going to happen, till the very, inevitable, end.

That's why I didn't expect so much hope from the book. It wasn't one of those, "on the edge of your seat, is she gonna find a miracle cure" type books. It simply held moments of day-to-day triumph that I found very personable, realistic, and bittersweet.

The back of the cover of this book had a summary that said something like "Moloka'i proves that people find the best of life in any situation" or some bullshit like that, but I didn't find the book anywhere as overbearing in terms of beating you over the head with morals. It was refreshing in that the author was just trying to tell you one person's life story, complete with all its flaws, and in all its glory. I came away with a lot to think about.

Oh, and by the way, that car chase. Dudes, you would not BELIEVE. So I turn on the TV and this red bronco is pulling off the highway into a residential area during rush hour, around a SCHOOL. I'm thinking, whoa, finally a smart car chase-person-running-from-the-law... you got off the highway, and yet will now possibly commit manslaughter of several minors. Then I'm thinking... whoa... that's... near my house. Of course I can't pull away now.

He drives by schools. He drives on the wrong side of the road. You know it's going to happen (on live tv! OMG) and then... it happens! BAM! Right into a honda in the middle of an intersection... and then, this fat cholo claws his way out of the bronco! No way! Dude, are you seriously going to run into the backyard of that house while 3 dozen helicopters are tracking the light reflecting off your bald shiny head? Also, is that backyard near mine? Also, if it is, maybe the annoying rat-dog next door will get caught in the crossfire!

He then proceeds to pull someone out of the car they are vacuuming in their driveway, and forces them to take off all their clothes so he can put them on! BUT HE CAN'T FIT! Seriously, where are the cops? Meanwhile the entire KCLA network is watching this guy trying to put on a black shirt and look casual, walking down the block with his arm stuck in the neck hole. It was awesome.

No, seriously.

Ok fine. But it was still better than "Two and A Half Men". Which, sadly resumed after they caught the guy. Which left me thinking two things: 1) If the news helicopters are following the guy better than the police, maybe we should just give the camera guys machine guns. Now that would make for much better prime time news coverage. 2) How is that show, nevertheless Charlie Sheen, STILL ON TV?!?!?!!

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