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Moloka'i (Brennert)

Moloka'i 
Alan Brennert, 2003
St. Martin's Press
400 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781429902281


Summary
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.

With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka'i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that readers will be changed forever by Rachel's story (From the publisher



Author Bio 
Birth—1954
Where—Englewood, New Jersey, USA
Education—University of California, Los Angeles 
Awards—Nebula Award for Best Short Story; Emmy Award
  (for L.A. Law)
Currently—lives in Southern California


Alan Brennert is a United States television producer and screenwriter who has lived in Southern California since 1973 and completed graduate work in screenwriting at the University of California Los Angeles. His earliest television work was in 1978 when he penned several scripts for Wonder Woman. He was story editor for the NBC series Buck Rogers and wrote seven scripts for that series.

He won an Emmy Award as a producer and writer for L.A. Law in 1991. For science and fantasy readers, he might be best known as a writer for The New Twilight Zone and the revival of The Outer Limits. One of his best regarded episodes was for The New Twilight Zone, an adaptation of his own story Her Pilgrim Soul, which became a play.

Since 2001 he has written episodes of the television series Stargate Atlantis and Star Trek Enterprise (as Michael Bryant).

He also writes books and stories, the majority of which are science fiction or fantasy. His first story was published in 1973 and in 1975 he was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in Science Fiction. He also won a Nebula Award for Best Short Story in 1991 and had stories in Gardner Dozois's Year's Best volumes.

His 2003 historical novel, Moloka'i, focuses on life in Honolulu in the early 1900s and the leper colony at Kalaupapa in Hawaii, made famous by Father Damien, Mother Marianne Cope and Lawrence M. Judd, historical people who appear in the novel.

In 2009, Brennert returned to Hawai'i with another historical novel, Honolulu, centering on a Korean picture bride in the early 1900s.

Brennert contributed many acclaimed DC Comics stories for Detective Comics, The Brave and The Bold, Batman: Holy Terror and Secret Origins in the 1980s and 1990s. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews 
Jin's story is prototypical, the bildungsroman of an aspiring woman, yearning for a life beyond the one society has prescribed. (Jin Eyre, anyone?) But in mooring this familiar character to the unique history of early-20th-century Hawaii, Brennert portrays the Aloha State's history as complicated and dynamic—not simply a melting pot, but a Hawaiian-style "mixed plate" in which, as Jin sagely notes, "many different tastes share the plate, but none of them loses its individual flavor, and together they make up a uniquely 'local' cuisine."
Krista Walton - Washington Post


Alan Brennert draws on historical accounts of Kalaupapa and weaves in traditional Hawaiian stories and customs.... Moloka'i is the story of people who had much taken from them but also gained an unexpected new family and community in the process.
Chicago Tribune


An absorbing novel...Brennert evokes the evolution of—and hardships on—Moloka'i in engaging prose that conveys a strong sense of place.
National Geographic Traveler


Compellingly original in its conceit, Brennert's sweeping debut novel tracks the grim struggle of a Hawaiian woman who contracts leprosy as a child in Honolulu during the 1890s and is deported to the island of Moloka'i, where she grows to adulthood at the quarantined settlement of Kalaupapa. Rachel Kalama is the plucky, seven-year-old heroine whose family is devastated when first her uncle Pono and then she develop leprous sores and are quarantined with the disease. While Rachel's symptoms remain mild during her youth, she watches others her age dying from the disease in near total isolation from family and friends. Rachel finds happiness when she meets Kenji Utagawa, a fellow leprosy victim whose illness brings shame on his Japanese family. After a tender courtship, Rachel and Kenji marry and have a daughter, but the birth of their healthy baby brings as much grief as joy, when they must give her up for adoption to prevent infection. The couple cope with the loss of their daughter and settle into a productive working life until Kenji tries to stop a quarantined U.S. soldier from beating up his girlfriend and is tragically killed in the subsequent fight. The poignant concluding chapters portray Rachel's final years after sulfa drugs are discovered as a cure, leaving her free to abandon Moloka'i and seek out her family and daughter. Brennert's compassion makes Rachel a memorable character, and his smooth storytelling vividly brings early 20th-century Hawaii to life. Leprosy may seem a macabre subject, but Brennert transforms the material into a touching, lovely account of a woman's journey as she rises above the limitations of a devastating illness.
Publishers Weekly


A gritty story of love and survival in a Hawaiian leper colony: more a portrait of old Hawaii than a compelling narrative. The chronicle of leprosy-infected Rachel Kalama begins in 1891 in Honolulu and ends in the late 1960s on isolated Moloka’i, site of the Kalaupapa Leprosy settlement. As much a record of her life as of the changes in Hawaii itself over the years, screenwriter and fantasy author Brennert (Her Pilgrim Soul, 1990, etc.) vividly and graphically details both the landscape and the disease as he tells Rachel’s story. She’s five at the start, when her father, a sailor, comes back in time for Christmas with another doll for her collection and gifts for her older siblings Sarah, Ben, and Kimo. A few months later, Rachel is found to have leprosy, and the happy life the family has enjoyed ends. Considered dangerously contagious, Rachel is sent to the settlement on Molaka’i. There, in a hospital run by Catholic nuns, she lives with other young girls affected in varying degrees. As the years pass, Rachel’s friends die; she befriends Sister Catherine, whose affection will sustain her; but, with the exception of her father, she has no contact with her family. Poor Rachel is doomed not only to suffer horribly but also to bear witness to history: a history that includes the end of the monarchy, the US annexation, the arrival of movies and airplanes, the Depression, and Pearl Harbor. Brennert also details changes in the treatment of leprosy—herbal injections, surgery, and, finally, the cure in the 1940’s: sulfa derivatives. While Hawaii changes, Rachel grows up, falls in love, and marries Kenji, a fellow patient. She bears a daughter, but Ruth must immediately give the child up foradoption to avoid infection. Amid the heartbreak, Kenji is murdered and Rachel’s symptoms worsen (she loses the fingers of her right hand). Rachel, though, is a survivor, and unexpected reunions compensate as she returns to a much-changed Honolulu. Not a comfortable read, but certainly instructive.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions 
1. The book's opening paragraph likens Hawai'i in the 19th century to a garden. In what ways is Hawai'i comparable to another, Biblical, garden?

2. Given what was known at the time of the causes and contagion of leprosy, was the Hawaiian government's isolation of patients on Moloka'i justified or not?

3. How is Hawai'i's treatment of leprosy patients similar to today's treatment of SARS and AIDS patients? How is it different?

4. What does 'ohana mean? How does it manifest itself throughout Rachel's life?

5. What does surfing represent to Rachel?

6. Rachel's mother Dorothy embraced Christianity; her adopted auntie, Haleola, is a believer in the old Hawaiian religion. What does Rachel believe in?

7. There are many men in Rachel's life—her father Henry, her Uncle Pono, her first lover Nahoa, her would-be lover Jake, her husband Kenji. What do they have in common? What don't they?

8. Rachel's full name is Rachel Aouli Kalama Utagawa. What does each of her names represent?

9. Did you as a reader regard Leilani as a man or a woman?

10. Discuss the parallels and inversions between the tale of heroic mythology Rachel relates on pages 296-298, and what happens to Kenji later in this chapter.

11. Imagine yourself in the place of Rachel’s mother, Dorothy Kalama. How would you have handled the situation?

12. The novel tells us a little, but not all, of what Sarah Kalama feels after her accidental betrayal of her sister Rachel. Imagine what kind of feelings, and personal growth, she might have gone through in the decades following this incident.

13. In what ways is Ruth like her biological mother? How do you envision her relationship with Rachel evolving and maturing in the twenty years between 1948 and 1970?

14. Considering the United States' role in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, was the American response adequate or not? In recent years a "Hawaiian sovereignty" movement has gathered momentum in the islands—do you feel they have a moral and/or legal case?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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