I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
This richly imagined novel, set in Hawaii more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place - and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. 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.
This novel had a great plot line, which suffered I think from the author’s rigid adherence to historical fact. I think he would be much better at writing text books than fiction, which is not the insult that it sounds, as both are separate skills and both necessary in our world. But this could have been such a good story and it missed its mark for me by such a huge margin.
It’s such a wonderful setting—the lushness and harshness both of Hawaii. The situation of a remote island leper colony offers so much opportunity, much of which the author made use of, but mechanically rather than artistically. The story just seemed to plod from plot point to plot point, methodically telling the tale without really inspiring too much emotion from me. Perhaps I’m just hard-hearted, but all of the piling on of miseries just overwhelmed me. How much more could be thrown at a character? And although we are told that they are suffering, it was more telling than showing. It was more like reading a non-fiction account than like reading a novel.