Way back in 2007, Wendy's (Musings of a Bookish Kitty) review of this novel put Moloka'i on my radar. My mother had long-ago told me about her trip to Moloka'i when she was in her twenties - she spoke about the extraordinary beauty of the island and meeting the "lepers" (or, as I discovered in this book, sufferers of Hassen's disease) who continued to live even after their imprisonment came to an end. Her story, Wendy's review, and my long-love of the Hawaii islands, made me want to read this book.
Sometimes you read a book and think "this book came at the right time". Almost as though your life led up to a point which required you to read a certain book. Moloka'i was one of those books. I went on holiday to Honolulu this Christmas, and left with a deep appreciation for the islands and its people. Not just for their friendliness and charm, but for the vast suffering they had to endure. From death, disease, and a loss of a kingdom - all of it, I would argue, at the hands of European Americans. Haoles.
So, on to the book. I can't work out if this book is brilliant because Alan Brennert is a genius - or if he is just a decent writer working with amazing material. Is it a colour-by-numbers of the Sistine Chapel, or a Rembrandt masterpiece of a garbage dump? I don't know, and frankly, I don't care. What I do know is that this is one hell of an epic, and I absolutely adored it all.
Don't let the depressing premise put you off. Sure, it starts off with a young girl being sent to a leper colony to die - but Moloka'i is much more than a tragedy, and it's about so much more than a disease. If anything, the book proves how life continues on in the most unlikely conditions. Rachel - our protagonist - lives through an extraordinary chunk of Hawaiian history: from the loss of its kingdom, the bombings at Pearly Harbour, to becoming a US State. In that time she grows up, and learns to live and love despite the odds. A lot of it is heartbreaking - I cannot recall how many times I cried - but a lot of it is also beautiful or silly or sexy or thrilling.
This is a book about life, not death. So think of it, instead, as the life and times of a talented young surfer named Rachel. I am certain there was a girl like her on Moloka'i - she'd be about my age now, plus or minus a century - and she deserves to be remembered.
Bottom line? I loved this absolutely book. Although written by a haole (and been reviewed by a haole) I think most Hawaiians would agree that Alan Brennert perfectly captures the aloha spirit.