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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
I've never been to Hawai'i, but if someone were to ask me to describe the islands, certain imagery comes to mind: exotic, lush, beautiful, and tranquil, rich in custom and history....in short, a paradise. It's a place where dreams come true. After re...read more