Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
"I used to wonder, why did God give children leprosy? Now I believe: God doesn't give anyone leprosy. He gives us, if we choose to use it, the spirit to live with leprosy, and with the imminence of death. Because it is in our own mortality that we are most Divine." Catherine, page 307
Following the story of Rachel, whose unhealing small sore on her leg turns out to be leprous, this book takes us on a journey of historical fiction about the history of the leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i. From the late 1800's to the early 1950's anyone diagnosed with leprosy in Hawaii was quarantined in a community on the remote island of Moloka'i, even children. Rachel was sent at 9 years of age, and although she had an uncle with leprosy also living on the island, she was forced to live in a dormitory for girls run by Catholic nuns. The story follows her as she grows to adulthood, losing friends to the disease along the way. She tries various treatments over the years, and is both blessed and cursed with a very mild form of the disease, which allows her to feel well and function highly, enjoying surfing and hiking, but also leaves her watching her friends sicken and die one by one.
Once an adult, Rachel falls in love with and marries another leper. They conceive a child, and since children aren't born with leprosy, they get only a couple of hours with her before she is taken from them to protect her health. They get to see her through a glass partition through the first year of her life, as she is closely observed for any signs of the disease. Once she is a year old, they are forced to give her up for adoption, a traumatic event that deeply affects Rachel for the rest of her days. Rachel lives to see the introduction of sulfa drugs to treat the disease, and after living with it for over 50 years, she is finally cured, although the disease has left its mark on her by that time. This cure, however, allows her to be able to seek out her daughter in the mainland US.
Although the disease touches every part of their lives, in Moloka'i we also learn that the disease doesn't take over the community's life. People go through the same things people go through the world over- love, betrayal, growing up, pain, anger, finding peace. A wonderful story of surviving and thriving amidst difficult circumstances, Moloka'i is a fascinating and heart-warming look into one of the most unique events in history.