By Alan Brennert
PBR Book Review:Today, there are effective medicines and treatments for Hansenís disease (historically known as Leprosy). The disease is also not as communicable as once thought. However, this book spans 80 years from the late 1800ís to 1970. During much of this time, Leprosy was feared and severely curtailed the freedom of personís suffering with it. This is the story of Rachel, who is diagnosed with Hansenís disease when she is 6 years old, removed from her family and sent to Kalaupapa, a settlement on the island of Molokaíi. Her story is rich with details of life in a Leprosy Settlement and what it was like to live with a disease dreaded and feared by society. Through are a variety of characters, Brennert shows that although some refuse to accept the constraints of this condition, many more lead happy fulfilled lives. Some abandon hope as soon as society abandons them, others live and breathe hope. This is also a book that will provoke debate on many emotionally charged issues. The shame and fear associated with Leprosy, the challenge of living with little freedom and limited resources and no control over your circumstances. This darkness is balanced with examples of the courage and strength of the human spirit that faces adversity and triumphs. In short, this is a complex story and excellent historical fiction for those who enjoy character driven novels with emotional pull.
Book Club Talking Points:
The first thing that comes to mind when reading this book is how does society deal with communicable diseases that have serious consequences? Also, in hindsight, were people diagnosed with Leprosy treated fairly or did society owe them more. There is also a lot of loss and longing in this novel that anyone with strong family bonds or children will relate to intellectually and emotionally. The story sounds dark, but the author does a great job of infusing hope and a sense of happiness for small victories and personal accomplishments.
*Author Website: http://www.alanbrennert.com/
*Other Books by Same Author: "Honolulu", "Time and Chance", "Kindred Spirits".
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 Rachelís mother, Dorothy Kalama. How would you have handled the
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
St. Martin's Griffin - September 9, 2004 - Fiction - 400 pages|
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.