It’s been a while since I did a book review. This is for two reasons.
- I haven’t felt like reading much.
- I’ve had a book hanging over my head for book club that I Did. Not. Want. To. Read.
Every year when the calendar ticks over on a book club year, I make a solemn vow that I will read every single book. And every year I fail miserably. Someone always picks a book about a topic that does not interest me, and this year was no different with 2 books focused on Asia.
Then Melissa joins the book club and due to her attendance record in her early membership and someone else dropping out, I let her pick the September book. And she chose Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. She chose this based on the fact that Lesley liked the book so well and blogged about it in 2009. She seems to like the books that Lesley reads and she spends a lot of time not liking the books that I like to read. This is hilarious. Lesley and Melissa are both two of the best friends a girl could ask for, and neither one of them has any taste in literature. Haha I say this because I hate everything either one of them loves. It’s a wonder we’re friends.
So when I found out that Melissa chose it due to Lesley’s glowing review, I immediately knew I was going to hate it. I went to Lesley’s blog and read her review and thought, “Well, crap.” And reading a summary of the book induced similar thoughts. Because, a) I have no interest in the history of Hawai’i and b) sweeping epic novels of any sort of history just turn me off almost immediately. That’s why I’ve been unsuccessfully attempting to read Gone With the Wind for 3 years now. Moloka’i spans something like 70+ years.
Still, I went over to a local bookstore and picked up a copy when a search of my local library proved fruitless and the list on Paperback Swap wasn’t getting any shorter. I figured I could always swap it for something else. I read the first several chapters in early August and then put it aside. There was something about it that was already way too sad and I couldn’t bear the thought of reading about Rachel being torn from her family and forced to live in a colony far away from the people she loved.
Before I get any further ahead of myself, Moloka’i is the story of Rachel Kalama, a 7-year-old living in Hawai’i with her mother, sister, and two brothers. Her father is a sailor and is away from home for months at a time, but is a devoted family man. Hansen’s Disease (commonly known as leprosy) has broken out in Hawai’i at the same time the government is being deposed, and young Rachel contracts the disease. She is found out as being a leper and sent off to the leper colony at Moloka’i, far from her family and home and beloved father. The book is a testament to Rachel’s strength from the beginning to the end of her life, as I say from age 7 to well into her 70’s.
On Sunday, with book club looming on Monday, I decided to re-visit Moloka’i. I wanted to at least give it an honest effort. As I first began to read, I was totally overwhelmed with sadness. I literally cried every 2 or 3 pages. But I was also increasingly captivated by Rachel’s story. I can’t tell you why exactly. As I went along, my tears dried up, and in fact, I became almost numb to the death and destruction that was apparently commonplace in a leper colony. Even when my favorite character, Henry, dies later on in the book (I’m really not giving anything away, given the span of time the book covers and the subject matter, you can bet most people will be dead by the time you close the back cover), I felt strangely removed from the grief I felt early on in the book. I started to think maybe something was wrong with me.
Anyway, I didn’t get the last 70 pages read in time for book club. We had an amazing meeting, literally laughing and crying together, renaming the club B*tches with Books, and just had one of those magical meetings I will remember for a long time. As member Lauren put it, “There was definitely something in the air tonight.” But when I got home, I was more determined than ever to finish Moloka’i. I picked up in bits and pieces what happened at the end, but in fact, I didn’t feel like the discussion ruined anything for me. I still felt pretty surprised by what went on. And when I read the Endnote, the floodgates opened, and I had myself a good cry.
Moloka’i is, God strike me dead, an amazing book that Lesley may have been right about. Hey, it was bound to happen sooner or later!!! I did tend to skim the Hawai'ian folk lore sections and the mythology, but I loved reading the character’s reactions to modern inventions like airplanes and movies when they were brought to Moloka’i. This was a great book and I highly recommend it. Just have a box of tissues handy at the beginning and the end. Five Stars on GoodReads.com