From the first leg lesion in 1891 to kidney failure in 1970, Moloka'i offers the reader a morbidly fascinating if plodding account of a single wretched life spent in a leprosy colony.
Gentle Reader, allow me to spare you a day of bleak reading by summarizing the plot:
Little Rachel is a simple child of Hawaii, and her mother and father dote on her, but when she gets a rose-colored sore on her leg she gets shipped off to the Hawaiian leprosy colony in Moloka'i, where she is reared by nervous Catholic nuns who tend to throw up after changing bandages.
Rachel gets to live a long, long life, which means the book has almost 400 pages.
Maybe it didn't help that we're housebound right now--the roads are slick with ice, we only have two hotdogs and ten boxes of diet hot chocolate and one can of tomato soup left in the pantry, because we're wearily dieting this month--but this book made me so depressed that when Kate came down (still in her pajamas at two in the afternoon) to get some hot tea I confessed I felt (illogically) like a member of the Donner Party, and her eyes grew big and she jumped back! And I said, "Oh, I only mean I have cabin fever and I hate winter and there's nothing to eat," and she said, nervously I thought, "Well, there's the cat," and pointed out old Vincent, eating kibble from his little dish...
"I loathe leprosy symptoms! I hate winter!" I said, and thought how I should put on my (ripped) Russian coat and walk out into the ten-degree bleak afternoon, but Rachel and her lesions would just follow me. I can't shake her loose.
I promised a sort-of plot, so here it is, a Cliff's Notes version: Rachel goes to the infamous leper colony in 1891 and remains there until in the early 1950s the sulfa treatment that ultimately contains and weakens what is now known as Hansen's Disease cures her enough to leave at last. She's met and married a nice man who has leprosy of the eye, poor Godforsaken fellow, and they've had a child who got (naturally) taken away from them the day she was born.
Rachel sees the following innovations come to their colony over the years: moving pictures, aeroplanes, gramophones, electricity. She gets to experience World War I, the Depression, Pearl Harbor, the invention of the Hula dance, a great tsunami, and the eventual arrest of her disease via sulfa drugs.
She gets sprung from the island when she's cured in chapter 958, rides in an aeroplane, and finds her daughter.
Please: spare yourself.
I'm sorry if this review is poorly written. Brennert's dull, lifeless prose style is still clanging in my head.
I'm now going downstairs to make more hot chocolate and get a nice murder mystery to read.