Genre: historical fiction
Length: 389 pages
Setting: the Hawai’ian island of Moloka’o, 1891-1970
Interest: I found a new book club at the local library (let’s hope it doesn’t die within two sessions like all the other book clubs I’ve joined). This was their book for the month.
Summary: Rachel was a child living in Honolulu when she was diagnosed with leprosy. After the disease was confirmed, anyone afflicted with leprosy was banished to the island of Moloka’i. Rachel was only eight when she was sent to the island. She was luck because she had an uncle on the island already who could look after her. All girls under the age of 16 lived with the Sister at Bishop’s Home. Rachel made friends among the girls there and survived to get her own house in town. She makes friends, including Leilani (a transvestite), and marries Kenji, who runs the store in town. Of course the disease continues to take its toll on Rachel and other inhabitants of the island. Rachel lives long enough that researchers are able to put her disease in remission and Rachel reenters society. There she looks up her family, including a daughter she had to give up for adoption.
Final thoughts: This is a sad story, and yet I never found it depressing. Rachel is forcibly removed from her family at age eight, with no real hope of ever seeing them again. Any time she starts to get settle in life with friends and adopted family, the disease kills people. Even so, there was always a thread of hope and making the best of her situation. I had a hard time putting the book down once I started.
So many societal changes occurred during Rachel’s life, and it was even more dramatic in Hawai’i since it started the century as an independent Kingdom and was basically annexed by the U.S. So much history happened within the story (I had to look up a couple of events, including the status of the town now. There’s still some patients left living there) , but you were most interested in how Rachel would cope with the changes in her life. She made many happy memories, even though so many terrible things happened to her and her friends.
There definitely was a lot to talk about in this book, so it made an excellent book club book. Everyone seemed to enjoy the book, although some were more affected by the sadness underlying everything than others.
Title comes from: The location of the leper colony.
Reading challenges fulfilled: 28/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge, and an M in my Title Alphabet Challenge
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