Separated from everything dear to her, the heroine of this book, Rachel, learns at a young age that life can still provide her with simple joys—and profound fulfillment. And though she spends many moments peeking into the abyss of despair, she also spends moments rescuing others from the black chasm of regret.
She encounters those who choose to allow their circumstances to define them, bitterness festering into hatred, until they are a shell of a human. She meets those who allow bitterness to overcome them despite the blessings and freedom she has longed so desperately for. This novel highlights that the human race is endowed with the ability to choose happiness…or to choose despair:
“God didn’t give man wings; He gave him the brain and the spirit to give himself wings,” counsels Rachel’s friend. “Just as He gave us the capacity to laugh when we hurt, or to struggle on when we feel like giving up. I’ve come to believe that how we choose to live with pain, or injustice, or death…is the true measure of the Divine within us. Some … choose to do harm to themselves and others. Others … bear up under their pain and help others to bear it.”
This historical novel chronicles the lives of those who lived on the island of Moloka’i: a colony of “lepers” who are outcast from their families, friends and the lives that were once commonplace. At times the colony is attended to and kept clean and up-to-date. At times, it is in ruins and neglected by the various governments who fly their flags on it’s shore. And mirroring the settlement are people who can choose whether they have come there to watch their life fall into ruin—or whether they have gone there to discover a new, if unexpected, life.
When Rachel first lands on the shores as a young child, she turns away, sickened, from the people who greet her with smiles. Later she learns to accept and love these people. She also learns to accept herself and the trials that have been handed to her: “Friends called out to her; the surf beckoned to her; her horse, on seeing her, happily nuzzled her neck. This was life, and if some things were kapu [or forbidden], others weren’t; she had to stop regretting the ones that were and start enjoying the ones that were not.”
This novel is also threaded with themes of religion, culture, family life and politics. Each piece flows together seamlessly, making this a novel that I would heartily recommend to others.
First words: “Later, when memory was all she had to sustain her, she would come to cherish it: Old Honolulu as it was then, as it would never be again.”
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