Book Talk: Daughter of Moloka’i

As previously written, I committed myself to reading at least 20 books this year. It was a lofty goal, but one I thought important to motivate me to read more. I love reading but sometimes life gets in the way or I end up being too tired at night to read more than a few pages. Consequently, reading only a handful of books each year for pleasure was what I accomplished.

I’m progressing nicely on this goal, now reading the 17th book for me in 2020. I just finished an extraordinary book, one that I recently purchased when looking for novels of interest. The book is called Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert and was recently published in 2019.

Before I get into the reasons I think this book is special, I need to recommend another book by the same author. It is called Moloka’i and was published in 2006. Moloka’i is a story based on the Hawaiian island of the same name. If you know anything about Hawaiian history, you will know that this island used to be a leper colony. Leprosy, now called Hansen’s Disease, is a highly contagious disease that causes severe disfigurement to those inflicted. The story of Moloka’i takes place before any treatment was available. Those infected were sent to the colony to live out their days. Many were separated from loved ones for the remainder of their lives, dying on the island.

When I read Moloka’i, we were travelling from the mid-west to the east coast to see family. It was a very emotional book with characters so fully developed they seemed alive. I found myself openly weeping in the car when one of the characters died near the end of the story. My family thought I was nuts! I knew otherwise. It was just that I realized when an author can bring such an emotional response in their readers, it is truly something special. The book, Moloka’i has stuck in my mind for many years solely for that reason.

So, imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw that another book had been written by the same author that dealt with the same place, if not the same characters. But, I was in for another surprise! Rather than continuing to deal with the hideous physical and social consequences of Leprosy. This book dealt with something else – racism.

Although I did not find the emotional attachment to the characters I had formed with the initial book, Daughter of Moloka’i was an intensely disturbing story. It tells the story, using historical fiction, of what happened to the American Japanese around the time of WWII. The tale follows the life of a Hawaiian (American) born girl (gestated and delivered at the Leper colony on Moloka’i) who was quickly taken away from her parents only hours after birth to live at an orphanage for girls on the big island run by nuns.

To make a long story short, the girl is adopted by Japanese Americans living on Hawaii pre-WWII. They end up living on the continental U.S. and being corralled and detained in internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Make no mistake, they were hard working American citizens. But, they were punished for their heritage and because of fear and racism.

Needless to say, this was a timely book to read due to the civil unrest and social justice issues taking place in our country today! Unfortunately, I don’t remember learning much about what the US did to the Japanese Americans during WWII, just what Hitler was doing to everyone else. I felt sad that I didn’t know more about this injustice.

If you are a secondary teacher reading this post, I would highly recommend this book for your students. The events, as they unfold, would surely spur some intense and timely conversations. Daughter of Moloka’i is an informative read with a variety of characters and insight into a recent time in history when we (the U.S.) did not act appropriately due to fear and racism. It is worth a read.

Image by Michelle Maria from Pixabay

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