Monday, 8 April 2013

Moloka'i - Alan Brennert

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This was a book I came across, rather than a book I put myself out to find..... But it was a good "find" indeed.  To find out something you didn't know about the world is always worth it, but this was a something which came as a shock to me, as I had no idea about the existence of a leper colony on the Hawaii'n island of Moloka'i.  The story takes you from 1890 when a small child in Honolulu is diagnosed with leprosy to 1970 when ...... well, read it and see!

Rachel is the small child.  Her mother and father are distraught when that first little mark appears, and they try desperately to cover it up until in a fit of peak, one of her siblings lets the truth out - and within days, Rachel has been taken to Moloka'i and away from her family for the rest of her life.  This is her story - but woven into it are real people, some re-named, some recognisable.  This is not the first fiction about Moloka'i, just the first I have come across, and there are many accounts of visitors' thoughts available, lots of which are listed at the end of the book (which by the way, I urge you to read, but not until you have finished reading the story itself), including Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson.  

This is not a "pretty" book, despite the rather attractive cover.  Descriptions of the disease are not shied away from; and the heartbreak suffered by some of the staff (many of the carers are catholic nuns) over the life and death of their charges is tangible.  And the heartbreak too, of those lepers who loose friends and partners can only be imagined.  Like any town, the colony on Moloka'i rub along together in all their various forms.  There is sex, violence; family love, true love, first love; jealousy, anger, humour and, in this cross section of life, there are some larger than life characters, some you will love, some you will love to hate.  Rachel herself dominates the book, taking her life in both hands and doing the best she can to live it.  

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