in the 1890’s, 7-year-old Rachel Kalama contracts leprosy. She is forcibly removed from her home in Honolulu and moved to the quarantine settlement on the Kalaupapa peninsula on the north shore of Moloka’i. Rachel’s uncle Pono also contracts leprosy and is moved to the same leper colony. Fortunately, Sister Catherine befriends Rachel and she occasionally sees her father. Rachel grows up in the settlement and eventually marries Kenji Utagawa who is also suffering with leprosy. Soon they that have a daughter who is immediately taken away from the young couple to safeguard the baby’s health. Years later Kenji is killed trying to protect a young woman who is being beaten up by her boyfriend.
When a cure is found for Hansen’s disease, Rachel is finally allowed to leave Kalaupapa. Her goal is to find her daughter given up for adoption over 30 years ago.
Since 1866, more than 8000 people, mostly Hawaiians, have died at Kalaupapa. Kalaupapa is now a refuge for the few remaining residents who are cured, but were forced to live their lives in isolation. The site is now Kalaupapa National Historical Park. (Currently the Hawai’i Department of Health has restricted the entrance of tours to Kalaupapa and will not be approving entry permits at this time due to the Kalaupapa patients being a high-risk population to COVID-19.)
Published in 2003, this is not an easy read. There is much sadness, but Rachel is a determined survivor. She learns to cope with the devastating disease and the heartbreak.