243 Following

Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

Moloka'i - Alan Brennert Rating: 3.75* of fiveThe Book Description: 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.