Sunday, 29 June 2014

"Moloka'i" by Alan Brennert

   This wonderful novel chronicles the grim struggle of a Hawaiian woman who contracts leprosy as a child in Honolulu during the 1890's and is deported to the island of Moloka'i, where she grows to adulthood at the quarantined settlement of Kalaupapa.
   Rachel Kalama marries Kenji Utagawa, a fellow leprosy victim whose illness brings shame on his Japanese family.  They have a daughter that they must give up for adoption.  But Rachel connects with this daughter Ruth, after Kenji dies while trying to stop a soldier beating up the soldier's girlfriend.
   There are many fascinating characters in this novel- Sister Mary Catharine for one.  She is tortured by her parents' suicides and Rachel saves her when she attempts suicide.
Catharine: "I used to wonder, why did God give children leprosy.  Now I believe: God doesn't give anyone leprosy.  He give us, if we choose to use it, the spirit to live with leprosy, and with the imminence of death.  Because it is in our own mortality that we are most Divine."

   This book was recommended to me by Evelyn Heggie at Fairview Nursing Home when I was delivering books to her.  Evelyn has now passed on.  I will never forget her continued passion for books as she approached her 100th birthday.

   Because I loved Moloka'i so much, I searched for another book by Alan Brennert. 
   This book was fun but not as heart-wrenching.

   In 1914, 17-year-old Regrettable arrives in Hawaii with other girls as 'picture brides'. Of course, the pictures are 'doctored' both by the girls and the guys.  All the brides are disappointed in what they find, but still they are married immediately on stepping off the ship from Korea.
   And so, the story follows Regrettable's life- and her name does describe her life!
   Regrettable had been taught to read and hopes for an education.  But her husband lives in poverty, working in sugar cane.  He drinks, gambles, and beats her.  She leaves him (in Korea the penalty for leaving would be hanging) and sews for prostitutes until she divorces and remarries.
The picture brides stay connected as they each try to make a good life.
The beginning of the novel was fascinating but it lagged in the middle and got bogged down toward the end.

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