Saturday, July 16, 2011

Guest Book Review: Moloka'i

Moloka'iMoloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004. 400 pp)

Born in New Jersey and raised in Southern California, Alan Brennert received a Bachelor’s degree in English from California State University at Long Beach. In addition to novels, Brennert writes short stories, screenplays, teleplays, and musicals. For his work on L.A. Law, he was awarded an Emmy in 1991. During his career, Brennert has also won a People’s Choice Award and a Nebula Award.

When Disease Alters Everything

Set in Honolulu in the 1890s, Rachel Kalama lives a normal life as a typical five-year-old girl when her mother discovers that she has a sore on her leg that won’t heal. The official health inspector quickly discovers Rachel’s malady (Hansen’s Disease, better known as leprosy) and she is torn from her family. Shipped out to an island of isolation, Rachel finds herself in the company of other lepers in the city of Kalaupapa.

Happiness and Loss

Rachel’s story is both one of happiness and of loss. It’s a sort of dualism that plagues the book, perhaps an effective commentary on our own lives. She experiences the loss of people she loves constantly throughout the book, meanwhile gaining new loves.

I’m amazingly moved and impressed by Brennert’s ability to find the depths of the soul where very few authors try to tread. Through this novel, Brennert poignantly tugs at the heart of the reader by forcing the reader to emotionally invest in unusual characters and their unique circumstances.

The Burden of Hansen’s Disease

Few readers want to dive into the life of someone with Hansen’s disease. Yet, Brennert forces the reader to dwell with these people. He forces the reader to know the life, the adventures, the love, and the loss of someone whose life has been drastically changed by a debilitating illness. The reader knows Rachel just as well as she knows herself, and eventually comes to the realization that Hansen’s disease took everything from Rachel, but also gave her something more in the end.

I obviously enjoyed the book. I think Moloka'i would be great for people that love Hawaiian culture and I’d strongly recommend it for anyone wants a simple, easy read.


Andrew Jacobson is the director of Choral Studies at Bellevue Christian School in Bellevue, WA.  He holds an MM in Music Education from Boston University, as well as a BM in Music Education from the University of Washington.  He loves wine, food, reading, music, and movies.


  1. I really enjoyed this book and read another of his--I think it was called Honolulu. He came to our library one time and talked about his experiences in Hawaii and it was very interesting.

  2. Shelley - it would be very cool to meet the author, glad you had the chance to! Thanks for the comment

  3. I saw this a few weeks ago and wondered if I should pick it up...Perhaps I should, now.

  4. You inspired me to read this book. I enjoyed it and learned a lot!

  5. Susan - thanks so much! I'm glad I inspired you to read it, and I very much enjoyed your review!