This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai'i 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, 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.
With a vibrant cast of vividly realized 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).
Before reading this book, I had virtually no historical knowledge of Hawaii. I didn't realize how dangerous it was for the native Hawaiians when other countries started visited their islands...they had no immunity to the new diseases that were being brought to their islands. One such disease was Hansen's Disease (leprosy). When people started coming down with leprosy, they were all frightened and feared that it was highly contagious and would spread to everyone on the islands. So anyone thought to be infected was arrested and sent to a hospital in Honolulu where they had to endure very impersonal examinations tests to determine if they were truly infections. If they weren't, they could go back home, but the stigma was there and it changed many lives. If they were infections, they would later be shipped off to a settlement on the island of Moloka'i. Forever leaving their families and their homes.
This story was truly beautiful. The author's note admits that some of the characters are fictitious, but that he attempted to make this as historically accurate as he could and some of the characters are either true or based on true people. After finishing the book, I looked up pictures of Moloka'i so I could understand exactly what the settlement was like and also what leprosy did to the people who contracted it.
I would easily give this book a 4 - 4 1/2 out of 5...and maybe even a 5. The more I think on this book and the story, the more I love it. I highly, highly recommend this book. The characters will stick with you long after you read it.