Sunday, May 8, 2016

Moloka'i Book Review

Rawr Reader,

Can I just first say, Happy Mother's Day to all the lovely mom's out there. I for one have one of those mothers that I really wouldn't be as open-minded as I am without her, or do what I love without her, or just be the cooky, voracious reader I am thanks to her and all the opportunities she's given me. So the fact that I finished this novel, which praises motherly figures, not entirely of blood relation, is probably more suiting than I planned when I decided to finish it today. So without further ado, let's jump right in. The synopsis Alan Brennert's Moloka'i is provided by Goodreads: 

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.

   I first saw this book when walking down the book aisles in Target and it was on the shelf for Target Club Picks. I was drawn by the pretty cover then absolutely interested when reading it was in fact about a life in Hawaii. It was about a disease so I waited for the right time to read such a heavy subject, and thought it was well worth the wait. As you've noticed I haven't found a book that's blown me away in a long time and it was meant to get me out of this slump.

(safe for those who haven't read this book yet)
   There's more to life than just the good things: love, career promotions, children, money. In fact there's disappointment, sacrifice, despair. Any reader knows this and despite wanting happy endings, we read because we need to see our characters suffer so that when they're happy, it means something. It isn't just a blimp or serendipitous fortune, the good happens and you're thrilled because most importantly, the character deserves it.
   Rachel Kalama is a girl who has one of the worst misfortunes a child could have: disease, only to be further aggravated when she is not only forcibly separated from her family into a medical institution, she's sent away to another island. Despite what's happened to her, she clutches onto the only thing that would make such a hellish situation better--- a relative who loves her like she was his. This is just the beginning for our young brave adventuress. While facing for the first time the consequences of the disease, she grasps the meaning of life much earlier than a seven-year-old child should. Overlapping her personal tragedies to ones on a larger historical setting, Brennert does a vividly phenomenal job placing the reader in a world spanning decades, being surrounded by people's whose desires, motivations, and fears are so real that you have to remind yourself that you're reading a piece of fiction. While Brennert says that many accounts in the story are taken from patients of Hansen's Disease who still live in Kalaupapa. 
    In Moloka'i, there's humor, consolation, friendships that cross boundaries of religion and gender, love that is temporary and love that fulfills the time that it's given. We encounter a world where technology and science is blossoming, evidence that the world is changing and while it may have started off bad, it can change for the good. Their conditions on Moloka'i doesn't have to be a death sentence, inevitable and foredooming. 
   And though Rachel witnesses many first-hand accounts of death, there's always still life to balance the grief and make her see that life is worth living on. Death, as much as it hurts, isn't the end. We see hope, because there's hope to be had no matter the inauspicious circumstances.
   Brennert also gave a depth of reality to this world an culture by implementing the vernacular of the Hawaiian people. It's one of my favorite things reading about other cultures and if you didn't look it up, you were mostly in the dark for the rest of the novel since Brennert didn't do all the work. 
   I've also been on a quest to find a novel with strong female characters who predominantly influence our protagonist, and Moloka'i doesn't disappoint.
   Something I found by story's end that I absolutely loved was the parallel between Rachel and her father and Brennert with me the reader. No matter what, it's unwavering. Every time things got bad, I felt Brennert was holding my hand, reassuring me with soft words like: "It's okay. The path's a little rocky now but I've seen the end of the path and once we reach it, and both of us look over the promontory into the ocean, the view will be worth it. Just hold my hand for now. I'll protect you." There's catastrophes and moments where your heart breaks, but there's moments where you feel like things are too good to be true and something bad is going to happen--- but then it doesn't. Life can be good at times and it doesn't have to fall prey to plot conveniences or literary vendettas. One of my favorite lines exemplifies this:

 "She stayed with Rachel in her room, listening to a life's story that was, she discovered, richer than it was sad." (372)

I was afraid that this would just be another story that focused on the tragedies and the misfortunes, and epitomize the phrase: c'est la vie, Brennert really gives the reader something to look forward to when he balances the ill and the fortune. Because in Moloka'i, you won't get a perfectly horrid story or even a miraculous one, just one worth telling that's full of love and lessons and people to love because they're so human you just wish you were able to rely on and call for when you needed them most. 
  And I for one have a large soft spot for characters that love books as much as I do. Rachel is unfortunate to be quarantined from a changing society, however what has been taken to her, is likewise given to her in book-shaped presents. Not only stories, but cultural novelties from lands beyond the horizon. 
   This story transcends time and has made a very comfortable home in my heart, and more importantly, on my bookshelf. Brennert put so much love into Moloka'i and he found a reader who absolutely believes in it as much as him. I can't recommend this story enough, and hope that if you give a chance to reading it you'll enjoy it as much as I did, and will for many years to come.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

“Who can doubt the presence of God in the sight of men whom He has given wings?"

"I recall that so precisely because I've had time to consider my error. God didn't give man wings; He gave him the brain and the spirit to give himself wings."
-Alan Brennert, Moloka'i

My Goodreads:

Next To Read:
Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this yet, so don't read this section)
   Now there's only one little thing that I'm half in turmoil and half satisfied with, and that's dealing with Mother Mary Catherine Voorhies. There's a twenty year jump from the final chapter to the end note and we as the readers are never given the chance to put our hearts to rest because we assume she died (Rachel died at eighty something so there's a very unlikely chance that Catherine was still alive), and yet we're never really told exactly what happened. And the reason why I need to know about her more than anything else is because Rachel lost everyone she every really knew in her adult life and most of her childhood, except Catherine. She changed as much as Rachel did and while she was a main character, she wasn't the main one. I loved her uncertainties about her faith and her love for Rachel. Rachel saved Catherine and in turn, years later, Catherine saves Rachel.
   But it isn't just Catherine. We see such amazing female roles: Dorothy, her mother for as short a time as she had her; Haleola, her uncle Pono's lover, her hānai (adopted auntie),  and her makuahine (auntie and mother); and Leilani, our spirited and loving transwoman who is a caring friend to Rachel. And all in between Rachel is surrounded by many female friends and teachers. As I mentioned, this story is not only full of female characters, but they're actually important to our protagonist. I wasn't expecting Brennert to be so generous with the female roles, I can only thank him he dedicated many aspects of the novel to the strength and resilience of women in an era and social position that typically handicaps them. 
   Something else I appreciate from Brennert is the fact that he didn't get rid of Kenji in the way I feared. As soon as the chapter came along and it ran along the time of 1941-1943 I already knew what was going to happen. Or at least, I thought I did. Let me tell you, I thought he was going to be taken to a Japanese Internment Camp after Pearl Harbor. Brennert later reveals that the U.S. gov't didn't relocate Japanese on the Hawaiian islands since they were the predominant work force, so when Kenji exits the story in a more normal, unrelated war accident, I felt that Brennert wrote his role to justice.
   I'm really happy that Brennert had Rachel move in with Sarah in the final chapters of the book. Brennert said that he hadn't planned on moving one sister with the other but that she kind of just came to life and moved in on her own. As a writer myself, I felt that I could relate to Brennert. The characters are our creations however, they do surprise us as much as if they were real. While both sisters have lost so much, they were able to find each other. I found it especially satisfying that they had each other when I'd really begun to worry that Rachel would end up alone with no one to be there for her (unless she returned to Kalaupapa to be with Catherine), but the fact it came to be with the person who most regretted her mistake and someone she was stripped of having a functional relationship with, made me happy as a reader, and as a sister. 
   I wish there was more to say but this novel was pretty close to perfect for me. Was there anything with the story that bothered you? Let's discuss!

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel 

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