After about 800 people recommended this book to me, I finally got the chance to sit down and read it! This is a very intense story, one that is definitely not for those who love happy endings, but it was a very enjoyable read filled with history and a sweet love story.
Moloka'i begins with young Rachel, a native Hawaiian residing with her large family, contracting leprosy. Taking place in the late 1800's, when leprosy was still a very new disease and one that was greatly feared, Rachel and her family are terrified that something will happen to her once word of her contracting the illness gets out. Her mother is able to hide her illness for close to a year before the health inspector becomes aware and takes Rachel away.
Forced to leave her home and is sent to live on the island of Moloka'i. The island has been set up as a quarantined area for those that have contracted leprosy, where the infected are forced to spend the rest of their lives. She resides in a girl's home, with many other young girls her age, and though Rachel's symptoms remain mild while she is young, she witnesses many of her close friends become deformed, extremely ill, and eventually die.
She eventually meets a man that she falls in love with, one also infected with leprosy, and they have a lovely marriage, seemingly meant to live together. They soon become pregnant and what should be a miracle turns tragic and the couple are forced to give up their only child simply because they are lepers.
The plot goes on, as Rachel's sad life does, until she is eventually cured of the disease and allowed to leave Moloka'i. Though this may seem to be exactly what she had been waiting for all these years, Rachel is afraid to leave, Moloka'i being all she has known for almost her entire life. However, she realizes the importance of making contact with her long estranged family and hopefully finding her now grown daughter, resulting in her final release from the leper island.
Moloka'i is incredibly rich in history and the Hawaiian language. I learned a lot about not only what it was like to live in Hawaii during the nineteenth century, but also about the Hawaiian language and of course, leprosy. I never realized it had taken so long to find a cure for what now seems like an easily treatable disease. Overall this was an enjoyable book, though a bit wordy in areas.