Molokai by Alan Brennert is this week’s Five Star Friday recommendation.  It may or may not be common knowledge that in the late 1800’s an area on the island of Molokai was designated as a settlement for those diagnosed with leprosy. Brennert’s novel is a heart-wrenching tale of loss but it is also a tribute to the human resiliency, hope, and the importance ohana, or, family.

1 MolokaiPublisher’s 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.

Because of the stigma of the disease, those sent to Molokai were considered an embarrassment to their families back at home.  Therefore, it was vital to develop close relationships with those who shared the same space and experiences.  Fortunately, Rachel’s removal from her family in Oahu was softened a bit by the fact that her Uncle Pono had been sent to Molokai before she arrived.

Due to his eye for detail, Brennert creates a vivid landscape of Hawaii before both World Wars as well as insights into the nearly decimated Hawaiian culture and language.

Brennert wrote Molokai with measured amounts of abject pain and the desire to enjoy life to its fullest despite the impediments to happiness. The Publisher’s Weekly review added, “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.”

Molokai is an interesting saga about an time and place that many of us on the mainland know little about.

Happy Reading, Susan C.

Also by Brennert:

Palisades Park   Growing up in the 1930s, there is no more magical place than Palisades1 Palisades Park Amusement Park in New Jersey—especially for seven-year-old Antoinette, who horrifies her mother by insisting on the unladylike nickname Toni, and her brother, Jack. Toni helps her parents, Eddie and Adele Stopka, at the stand where they sell homemade French fries amid the roar of the Cyclone roller coaster. There is also the lure of the world’s biggest salt-water pool, complete with divers whose astonishing stunts inspire Toni, despite her mother’s insistence that girls can’t be high divers.

But a family of dreamers doesn’t always share the same dreams, and then the world intrudes: There’s the Great Depression, and Pearl Harbor, which hits home in ways that will split the family apart; and perils like fire and race riots in the park. Both Eddie and Jack face the dangers of war, while Adele has ambitions of her own—and Toni is determined to take on a very different kind of danger in impossible feats as a high diver. Yet they are all drawn back to each other—and to Palisades Park—until the park closes forever in 1971.

Evocative and moving, with the trademark brilliance at transforming historical events into irresistible fiction that made Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i and Honolulu into reading group favorites, Palisades Park takes us back to a time when life seemed simpler—except, of course, it wasn’t.

Honolulu is the richly imagined story of Jin, a young “picture bride” who leaves her 1 Honolulu.jpgnative Korea—where girls are so little valued that she is known as Regret—and journeys to Hawaii in 1914 in search of a better life.  Instead of the prosperous young husband and the chance at an education she has been promised, Jin is quickly married off to a poor, embittered laborer who takes his disappointments out on his new wife, forcing her to make her own way in a strange land.

Struggling to build a business with the help of her fellow picture brides, Jin finds both opportunity and prejudice, but ultimately transforms herself from a naive young girl into a resourceful woman. Prospering along with her adopted city, which is fast growing from a small territorial capital to the great multicultural city it is today, Jin can never forget the people she left behind in Korea, and returns one last time to make her peace with her former life

With its passionate knowledge of people and places in Hawaii far off the tourist track, Honolulu is another spellbinding story of the triumphs and sacrifices of the human spirit from the author of the reading group favorite Molokai.

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