Book Review: Moloka’i

A review of Moloka'i, a novel about Hawaii, leprosy, tragedy and hope by Alan Brennert.
A review of Moloka'i, a novel about Hawaii, leprosy, tragedy and hope by Alan Brennert.
I picked up Moloka'i by Alan Brennert because I love historical fiction, especially when it is about a culture I'm unfamiliar with. I had a few reservations, since Alan Brennert is not a native Hawaiian, but reviews suggested he had done his due diligence so I decided to give it a try. The story follows the life of Rachel Kalama in Hawaii during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The main focal point of Rachel's life is her battle with leprosy and quarantining in a lepers' colony in her childhood years.

What I Disliked

The book itself is very slow, and Rachel isn't a compelling character. In the early chapters I had some attachment to the character—despite knowing that she would end up at the leper colony, the reaction of her family and their subsquent attempts to hide the disease was solidly done. After that, it went downhill. The novel is character driven, but unfortunately I didn't particularly care what happened to Rachel.


There are a couple topics touched that could be triggers, such as suicide and domestic violence. Also, since it is a coming of age novel, there are also a few sexual passages. None of these are particularly explicit, but I did want to make it known that it does appear. There is also a transgender character in the story; their struggle with gender is mentioned briefly, but that isn't the primary focus of the character. None of these soured the book for me (but I was also fairly detatched from the story by the time these themes and topics entered the story).

What I Liked

I like to end on a positive note, so let's discuss what I did like about the novel. For starters, I actually listened on audio book and the woman reading the novel did a phenomenal job. The novel contained a lot of historical information which would have made for a great documentary. As I mentioned, I love reading about different cultures. The smattering of Hawaiian words keep you rooted in Hawaii, which I enjoyed.

Would I Recommend?

A lot of people seem to love this book, so I clearly have an unpopular opinion in not enjoying it. I would not suggest it to someone, but if you were already thinking about it and love character driven stories, you may enjoy it.

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