Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.

With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters,
Moloka'i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that "few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel's story" ( 

Moloka'i is one of the three books selected for the 2012 One Book, One San Diego event.

About the Author

Alan Brennert was born in Englewood, New Jersey, to Herbert E. Brennert (an aviation writer who contributed to such magazines as Skyways and American Helicopter) and Almyra E. Brennert.  Since 1973 he has lived in Southern California.  He holds a Bachelor's degree in English from California State University at Long Beach, and also did graduate work in screenwriting at UCLA.
In addition to novels, he has written short stories, teleplays, screenplays, and the libretto of a stage musical, Weird Romance, with music by Alan Men Ken and lyrics by David Spencer. 

His work as a writer-producer for the television series L.A. Law earned him an Emmy Award in 1991.  He has been nominated for an Emmy on two other occasions, once for a Golden Globe Award, and (three times) for the Writers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Teleplay of the Year.  He received a People's Choice Award for L.A. Law, and his short story "Ma Qui" was honored with a Nebula Award in 1992.
He has developed screenplays for major studios, as well as miniseries, pilots, and television movies.  Other series to which he has contributed include China Beach, Simon & Simon, and the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone.  "But in television and film," he says, "sometimes your best work is never seen."  In 1999 he spent six months writing a four-hour miniseries for NBC and Kevin Costner's Tig Productions, based on David Marion Wilkinson's epic novel Not Between Brothers, about the founding of Texas.  When the network opted not to produce it, Alan decided he needed to write something that people would get to see, and the result was Moloka'i. 


  1. Our Skype conversion was a great experience for book club members; author Alan Brennert was relaxed and responsive to our interests.
    What was the inspiration for Moloka’i?
    It began in some ways with reading Consider This Senora by Harriet Doerr which started the author thinking about the bonds of community. Then there was his thirty year long love of the Hawaiian Islands and their people.
    What is the native language or languages of Hawaii? Is it related to other languages? Is it still written or spoken? Does it have a literature?
    The native language is an outgrowth of the Polynesian language - the Hawaiians were isolated for 500 years. The language was verbal but the missionaries did eventually create an alphabet and it has a vibrant literature, and mythology. Myths were printed with many variations. The Tale of the Eight-Eyed Bat told in the novel is an authentic island myth.
    How did you research the background for the novel?
    O.A. Bushnell, who also wrote a novel entitled Moloka’I, is an excellent Hawaiian historian. Hawaii State Archives also provide many sources for research. In particular, the letters from the patients to their families were poignant. So with a combination of touring, seeing, reading - a story began to take form for Alan Brennert.
    Why did you choose to have the main character female rather than male?
    Once he knew that children with leprosy were separated from their parents and that lepers bearing children would have their babies taken away from them to keep them from being infected then he knew that the protagonist in his novel must be a woman.
    One of the themes of Moloka’i has to do with the lives of Japanese Americans on the islands. How were these people treated after the bombing of Pearl Harbour?
    The population of Hawaii is of many different races, so the reaction was very different from that on the mainland. A small number of Japanese Americans, identified as security risks, were interned. However the Japanese were a large part of the population and without them, the economy would have collapsed.
    The conflict between Kenji and Crasson was meant to personalize the conflict that existed between those in the armed forces and the Japanese.

  2. Another theme is that of disfigurement and how society reacts to that exterior. There was the beauty of the land and the hideousness of the people, the acres of tombstones in that Garden of Eden, the dark of the current situation with the light of the time before the explorers came.
    Those juxtapositions were intended to bring the reader to a better understanding of the lives of the lepers and of the lives of Hawaiians in general. You see the contrasts when you go to Moloka’i. There are still people living in the settlement, and tours are given of the island. Those with leprosy avoid the tourists as you can understand.
    Has any more progress been made in the treatment of leprosy?
    Antibiotics have cured leprosy in the Western World, but it is still rampant in the Third World. In places like India and Thailand people si8mply can’t afford the medicine. Retardation as a result of leprosy has been medically disproven.
    You have received recognition and honours for your writing in several different genres - is there one genre that you prefer? What different skills does each form require?
    Alan tried different genres and media because I like doing different things. Right now his favourite medium is the historical novel as he enjoys researching and creating a past world.
    The short story is concise. It is a slice-of-life, a cameo. The novel is larger and has a more complex structure, a large scope which spans many years. This all informs the character and the development of the character.
    Alan’s third novel, Pallisades Park, will be released in April. Fireside Readers are looking forward to it.

  3. I'm sorry I missed the last three meetings,I did read Molokai and I loved Rachel.I loved that he wrote the character with a sense of humour and the joy he seemed to write her dialogue.The Kenji/Crossan
    conflict revealed both men as vunerable and real,a reader despises Crossan but he or she understands his meanness.

  4. I' hope that there are more Alan Brennert novels scheduled for the Book Club.