Alan Brennert

Welcome to the enchanting world of “Moloka’i” by Alan Brennert 🌺! This novel, a blend of historical fiction and heartfelt drama, transports readers to the beautiful yet isolated Hawaiian island of Moloka’i, known for its leprosy settlement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Alan Brennert, the author behind this moving tale, masterfully weaves a story that not only educates but also captivates, making history come alive with every page turned.

“Moloka’i” is not just a book; it’s a journey through time, exploring themes of love, loss, resilience, and the enduring strength of the human spirit. Set against the backdrop of Hawaii’s breathtaking landscapes, Brennert’s novel delves deep into the lives of those affected by leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease, and their struggle to find dignity and love amidst overwhelming challenges.

As we dive into the world of “Moloka’i,” get ready to be touched by the rich history, complex characters, and the vibrant culture of Hawaii. Whether you’re a fan of historical fiction or simply in search of a story that speaks to the heart, “Moloka’i” promises an unforgettable journey. Let’s explore this beautiful story together, shall we? πŸ“šβœ¨

Plot Summary

“Moloka’i” follows the life of Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old girl living in Honolulu in the 1890s. Her life takes a dramatic turn when she is diagnosed with leprosy and is forced to leave her family to live in the leprosy settlement in Kalaupapa, Moloka’i. Here’s how her story unfolds:

Exposition β€” Rachel’s early life in Honolulu is marked by curiosity and warmth within a loving family. Her dreams and innocence are shattered when a rose-colored mark on her skin is identified as leprosy, leading to her separation from her family and exile to Moloka’i.

Rising Action β€” Upon arrival at Kalaupapa, Rachel faces the harsh realities of life in the settlement. She meets a cast of characters who become her new family: Haleola, a healer; Sister Catherine, a nurturing nun; and Leilani, a transgender woman with wisdom to share. Rachel’s journey is one of growth amidst adversity, as she navigates friendships, loss, and the search for identity in a place marked by suffering and stigma.

Climax β€” The turning point in Rachel’s life comes with the loss of key figures in her life to the disease, including the death of her closest friends. These events deeply affect Rachel, forcing her to confront the fragility of life and the strength of her spirit.

Falling Action β€” As years pass, Rachel finds love with a man named Kenji, marries, and experiences the joy of motherhood. However, tragedy strikes when Kenji succumbs to the disease, and Rachel is faced with the possibility of losing her daughter, Ruth, due to the stigma surrounding her condition.

Resolution β€” The story culminates with Rachel’s reconciliation with her past and her estranged family. Advances in medical treatment allow for a possibility of a reunion with her daughter, Ruth, offering a glimmer of hope for a future outside the confines of Kalaupapa. Rachel’s life story is a testament to human resilience and the capacity for love and forgiveness in the face of unimaginable hardships.

Throughout “Moloka’i,” Alan Brennert crafts a compelling narrative that not only highlights the historical realities of leprosy in Hawaii but also tells a deeply human story of survival, love, and the pursuit of happiness against all odds.

Character Analysis

In “Moloka’i,” Alan Brennert brings to life a cast of characters each with their own struggles, dreams, and developments. Here’s a closer look at some of the main characters:

  • Rachel Kalama β€” A young girl diagnosed with leprosy and sent to Kalaupapa, Rachel’s journey is one of immense growth. From a naive and spirited child to a resilient and compassionate woman, Rachel’s life is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. Her character embodies hope, love, and the ability to find joy in the face of adversity.
  • Haleola β€” A native Hawaiian and a healer in the Kalaupapa settlement, Haleola becomes a mother figure to Rachel. She represents the connection to Hawaiian culture and traditions, and her wisdom and kindness are pivotal in helping Rachel navigate her new life.
  • Sister Catherine β€” A dedicated nun who works at the settlement, Sister Catherine’s kindness, and guidance have a profound impact on Rachel. She symbolizes the power of faith and the importance of compassion and understanding in healing and support.
  • Leilani β€” A transgender woman and one of Rachel’s friends, Leilani’s character challenges societal norms and represents the themes of acceptance and the complexity of identity. Her friendship with Rachel highlights the diversity of experiences within the Kalaupapa community.
  • Kenji β€” Rachel’s husband, a Japanese man who also lives in the settlement. Kenji’s love story with Rachel adds depth to her character and shows the possibility of finding love and happiness in the most unlikely places. His character adds layers of cultural diversity and the impact of leprosy on different communities in Hawaii.

Here’s a summary of the character analysis in a table format:

CharacterPersonalityMotivationsCharacter Development
Rachel KalamaResilient, compassionate, hopefulTo find love and acceptance, to reunite with her familyGrows from a naive child into a strong, compassionate woman who overcomes adversity
HaleolaWise, nurturing, cultural guardianTo preserve Hawaiian culture, to heal and support the communityActs as a stabilizing and guiding force in the community and for Rachel
Sister CatherineKind, faithful, dedicatedTo provide care and spiritual support to the leprosy patientsRepresents the face of compassionate Christianity, impacting lives positively
LeilaniBold, accepting, insightfulTo live authentically, to find acceptanceChallenges societal norms, highlighting issues of identity and acceptance
KenjiLoving, resilient, culturalTo find love and happiness despite his disease, to support his familyShowcases the power of love and resilience in the face of adversity

Through these characters, “Moloka’i” explores themes of resilience, love, cultural identity, and the human capacity for compassion and growth. Each character’s journey adds a unique layer to the rich tapestry of the story, making “Moloka’i” a deeply moving and unforgettable novel.

Themes and Symbols

“Moloka’i” by Alan Brennert is rich with themes and symbols that contribute to the depth and meaning of the story. Here’s an exploration of some of the major themes and symbols found in the novel:

  • Resilience and Hope β€” Central to the narrative is the theme of resilience. Despite facing exile, stigma, and loss, Rachel and the other characters demonstrate an incredible capacity to adapt and find happiness. The settlement of Kalaupapa, while a place of suffering, also becomes a symbol of hope and survival, showcasing the human spirit’s indomitable will.
  • Family and Belonging β€” The concept of ‘ohana (family) runs deeply through “Moloka’i.” The novel explores how family ties extend beyond blood relations, emphasizing the bonds formed through shared experiences and support in the Kalaupapa community. This theme is a testament to the importance of belonging and the various forms that family can take.
  • Love and Loss β€” Love, in its many forms, is a driving force in the novel. Romantic love, familial love, and the love among friends are all explored, each bringing moments of joy and pain. The loss experienced by the characters serves to highlight the preciousness of these relationships and the strength required to move forward.
  • Identity and Acceptance β€” Through characters like Leilani, the novel addresses the complexities of identity and the struggle for acceptance. This theme is a call for empathy and understanding, challenging societal norms and prejudices.
  • Connection to Land and Culture β€” The Hawaiian setting is more than just a backdrop; it’s integral to the story’s soul. The land, with its beauty and isolation, mirrors the characters’ experiences. Hawaiian culture, with its emphasis on connection, tradition, and spirituality, plays a crucial role in shaping the characters’ identities and their understanding of life and death.
  • Symbols:
    • The Sea β€” Represents life’s constant changes, the flow of time, and the connection between past and present. It’s a source of sustenance, a barrier, and a bridge for the characters.
    • Lei β€” A symbol of love, welcome, and farewell. Making and giving lei in the novel underscore moments of connection and transition, embodying the cycles of life.
    • Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) β€” Beyond its physical effects, leprosy symbolizes the broader themes of stigma, isolation, and the human need for connection and acceptance.

These themes and symbols weave through the narrative of “Moloka’i,” enriching the story with layers of meaning. They challenge readers to reflect on the nature of resilience, the complexities of human relationships, and the profound connection between people, culture, and the land they call home. Through Brennert’s skilled storytelling, “Moloka’i” becomes a powerful exploration of the human condition, marked by both its sufferings and its profound capacities for love, hope, and renewal.

Style and Tone

The writing style and tone of Alan Brennert in “Moloka’i” are integral to the book’s immersive experience, enhancing the mood and atmosphere of the story. Let’s delve into these aspects:

  • Evocative and Descriptive β€” Brennert’s prose is richly descriptive, vividly bringing to life the landscapes and settings of Hawaii. His ability to evoke the sensory experiences of the island β€” the sights, sounds, and smells β€” transports readers to the heart of its beauty and tragedy. This descriptive prowess creates a palpable sense of place that is crucial for understanding the characters’ experiences.
  • Emotional and Empathetic β€” The tone throughout “Moloka’i” is deeply emotional and empathetic. Brennert skillfully navigates the complexities of the human spirit, allowing readers to connect with the characters’ joys and sorrows. This emotional depth fosters a strong bond between the reader and the characters, making their journeys and growth even more impactful.
  • Historical and Informative β€” While primarily a work of fiction, “Moloka’i” is grounded in historical facts and details about the leprosy settlement in Kalaupapa. Brennert integrates these elements seamlessly, educating readers about this chapter of Hawaiian history without sacrificing narrative flow. The informative tone enriches the story, offering insights into the social, cultural, and medical contexts of the time.
  • Reflective and Philosophical β€” Throughout the novel, Brennert weaves in reflective moments and philosophical insights, particularly through characters like Haleola and Sister Catherine. These moments encourage readers to ponder themes of life, death, acceptance, and the meaning of ‘ohana. The reflective tone adds layers of depth to the narrative, inviting readers to engage with the story on a deeper level.
  • Hopeful and Uplifting β€” Despite the challenges and hardships faced by the characters, the overall tone of “Moloka’i” is hopeful and uplifting. Brennert emphasizes the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity for love and joy in the face of adversity. This hopeful tone is a testament to the novel’s message about the power of hope and the possibility of redemption and renewal.

Through his evocative writing style and nuanced tone, Alan Brennert crafts a story that is both a tribute to the people of Kalaupapa and a universal tale of human resilience. “Moloka’i” stands out not just for its historical accuracy and rich storytelling but also for its ability to touch the hearts of readers, leaving a lasting impression long after the last page is turned.

Literary Devices Used in Moloka’i

Alan Brennert’s “Moloka’i” employs a variety of literary devices that enrich the narrative and deepen the reader’s engagement with the text. Here are the top 10 literary devices used in the book, each contributing uniquely to the story’s impact:

  1. Symbolism β€” Brennert uses symbols such as the sea, leis, and the disease itself to represent larger themes like change, connection, and isolation. These symbols weave through the narrative, adding layers of meaning and enhancing the reader’s understanding of the characters’ experiences.
  2. Imagery β€” Vivid imagery is used to bring the Hawaiian landscape and the leprosy settlement to life. Brennert’s descriptive language appeals to the senses, creating a vivid picture of the setting that immerses the reader in the story’s world.
  3. Flashback β€” The use of flashbacks enriches the narrative by providing background information on characters and their histories. This device helps to develop the characters fully, revealing motivations and past experiences that shape their actions and relationships.
  4. Foreshadowing β€” Brennert employs foreshadowing to hint at future events or revelations. This technique builds suspense and anticipation, keeping the reader engaged and invested in the unfolding story.
  5. Metaphor β€” The novel is rich with metaphors that compare one thing to another, adding depth and insight to the narrative. For example, the isolation of the leprosy patients is often metaphorically linked to the isolation of the islands themselves, highlighting themes of separation and connection.
  6. Personification β€” By attributing human characteristics to non-human elements, Brennert adds emotional depth to the environment and setting. The sea, for instance, is often personified, reflecting the characters’ emotions and the story’s mood.
  7. Irony β€” Situational and dramatic irony are used to underscore the contrast between appearance and reality, often highlighting the tragic or poignant aspects of the characters’ circumstances.
  8. Allusion β€” References to Hawaiian mythology, history, and culture are sprinkled throughout the novel, enriching the story with layers of meaning and connecting the narrative to broader themes and contexts.
  9. Simile β€” Brennert uses similes to draw comparisons that highlight the beauty of the natural world, the characters’ emotions, and the contrasts between life within and outside the leprosy settlement.
  10. Motif β€” Recurring motifs, such as journeys, healing, and the concept of ‘ohana (family), run through the novel, reinforcing its central themes and uniting the various strands of the narrative.

These literary devices are skillfully woven into the fabric of “Moloka’i,” enhancing the storytelling and inviting readers to engage with the text on a deeper level. Through his use of these techniques, Brennert not only tells a compelling story but also invites reflection on its themes and characters, making “Moloka’i” a rich and rewarding reading experience.

Literary Devices Examples

To illustrate the literary devices used in “Moloka’i” by Alan Brennert more clearly, here are tables presenting examples and explanations for each of the top 10 devices identified.


The seaSymbolizes the vastness of life and the connections between people and their past. It represents both isolation and freedom for the characters.
LeisRepresent love, welcome, and farewell, symbolizing the characters’ relationships and the cycles of life and death they experience.
Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease)Acts as a symbol for the broader themes of stigma, isolation, and the struggle for acceptance and connection in society.


Descriptions of Kalaupapa’s landscapeEvokes the beauty and harshness of the Hawaiian landscape, highlighting the contrast between the characters’ physical surroundings and their internal struggles.
The vivid portrayal of leprosy symptomsCreates a strong visual impression that underscores the physical and emotional impact of the disease on the characters.


Rachel’s memories of HonoluluProvides background on Rachel’s life before her diagnosis, offering insights into her character development and the stark contrast between her past and present.


Early mentions of symptoms or fear of separationHints at future events regarding the diagnosis of leprosy and the ensuing separation of characters from their families.


Kalaupapa as a prison and a sanctuaryReflects the dual nature of the leprosy settlement as both a place of isolation and a community of support and acceptance.


The sea whisperingGives the sea a life-like quality, reflecting the emotions and stories of the characters connected to it.


A character’s hopeful action leading to unexpected sorrowHighlights the tragic irony of characters seeking happiness or health, only to encounter further hardship.


References to Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fireConnects the characters’ experiences to broader Hawaiian cultural beliefs and the power of nature.


Comparing a character’s hope to a fragile seedHighlights the delicacy and potential of hope in the face of adversity.


Recurrent references to ‘ohana (family)Emphasizes the theme of connectedness and belonging, despite the physical separation from biological families.

These examples showcase how Alan Brennert employs literary devices in “Moloka’i” to deepen the narrative, enrich the characters, and engage readers in a multisensory and emotionally resonant experience. Through these techniques, Brennert not only tells a compelling story but also illuminates the human condition in profound and meaningful ways.

Moloka’i – FAQs

What is the main setting of “Moloka’i” by Alan Brennert?

  • The main setting of “Moloka’i” is the Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement on the island of Moloka’i, Hawaii, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The novel also touches on life in Honolulu before the main character, Rachel Kalama, is sent to Kalaupapa.

Who is the protagonist of “Moloka’i”?

  • The protagonist of “Moloka’i” is Rachel Kalama, a young Hawaiian girl who is diagnosed with leprosy (Hansen’s disease) and sent to live in the leprosy settlement in Kalaupapa, Moloka’i.

What are the major themes in “Moloka’i”?

  • Major themes in “Moloka’i” include resilience and hope, the significance of family and belonging, the complexity of love and loss, identity and acceptance, and the deep connection to land and culture.

How does “Moloka’i” address the issue of leprosy (Hansen’s disease)?

  • “Moloka’i” addresses the issue of leprosy by depicting the life of people diagnosed with the disease and sent to the Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement. The novel explores the medical, social, and emotional impacts of the disease, as well as the stigma attached to it, while also highlighting the human spirit’s resilience.

Is “Moloka’i” based on a true story?

  • While “Moloka’i” is a work of fiction, it is grounded in historical facts about the Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement and the history of leprosy (Hansen’s disease) in Hawaii. The characters and their stories are fictional, but the setting and many of the events described in the novel are based on real historical contexts.

What does ‘ohana mean, and how is it portrayed in the novel?

  • ‘Ohana is a Hawaiian term that means family, including both blood relatives and chosen family. In “Moloka’i,” ‘ohana is portrayed as a central theme, emphasizing the bonds formed within the Kalaupapa community. Despite physical separation from their biological families, the characters create a new ‘ohana, highlighting the importance of support, love, and belonging.

How does Alan Brennert’s writing style contribute to the story of “Moloka’i”?

  • Alan Brennert’s writing style, marked by evocative descriptions, emotional depth, and historical accuracy, vividly brings to life the setting of Moloka’i and the experiences of its characters. His style enhances the mood and atmosphere of the novel, drawing readers into the story and enabling them to connect deeply with the characters and their journeys.

These FAQs provide a snapshot of the key aspects of “Moloka’i,” offering insights into its setting, themes, and characters, as well as the historical and cultural context that shapes the novel.


What is the main reason Rachel Kalama is sent to Kalaupapa?She volunteered for missionary work.She was diagnosed with leprosy (Hansen’s disease).She wanted to explore the island.She was looking for her lost family.
Who becomes a mother figure to Rachel in Kalaupapa?Sister MaryHaleolaRachel’s biological motherA school teacher
What symbolizes love and farewell in the novel?The seaA songLeisA letter
What theme is central to the novel “Moloka’i”?Adventure and explorationResilience and hopePolitical intrigueScience and discovery
How does the novel “Moloka’i” primarily address the theme of family and belonging?Through Rachel’s quest to find her biological parentsBy showcasing traditional Hawaiian family structuresThrough the formation of chosen families within the Kalaupapa communityBy depicting the breakdown of families due to disease
What literary device is used to provide background information on characters?MetaphorFlashbackIronyAlliteration
Which character in “Moloka’i” challenges societal norms and represents themes of acceptance and identity?Sister CatherineKenjiLeilaniHaleola
What does the sea symbolize in the novel?Danger and fearThe constant changes in life and connections between past and presentThe isolation of KalaupapaThe boundary between life and death

This quiz is designed to test comprehension of the book “Moloka’i” by Alan Brennert, covering key aspects of the plot, characters, themes, and literary devices. It provides a variety of questions that can help gauge understanding of the novel’s complex narrative and the historical and cultural context it portrays.


Spot the Literary Devices in the Paragraph

Read the following paragraph from “Moloka’i” and identify the literary devices used. Write down your answers, and then check them against the provided key.

“As Rachel gazed out over the expansive sea, it seemed to whisper promises of stories untold, its waves caressing the shore like the gentle touch of a loved one long missed. The leis that adorned her neck, heavy with the scent of plumerias, felt like a tender embrace from the island itself, a symbol of both welcome and a painful reminder of farewells yet to come. In the distance, the towering cliffs of Kalaupapa stood as silent guardians, their imposing presence a testament to the isolation and resilience of those who called this place home.”


  1. Personification: “the sea… seemed to whisper promises of stories untold, its waves caressing the shore like the gentle touch of a loved one long missed.” This gives the sea human-like qualities, suggesting it communicates and interacts with the characters.
  2. Symbolism: “The leis that adorned her neck… felt like a tender embrace from the island itself, a symbol of both welcome and a painful reminder of farewells yet to come.” Leis symbolize the complex emotions of greeting and parting, embodying the characters’ experiences of love and loss.
  3. Imagery: The entire paragraph vividly describes the visual and sensory details of the scene, from the “expansive sea” to the “heavy scent of plumerias,” creating a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.
  4. Metaphor: “the towering cliffs of Kalaupapa stood as silent guardians.” This compares the cliffs to guardians, implying they protectively oversee the settlement and its inhabitants, highlighting themes of isolation and resilience.

This exercise encourages readers to closely examine Brennert’s use of literary devices in “Moloka’i,” revealing how these techniques contribute to the novel’s depth and richness.