I try not to read too many reviews before picking and reading a new book or if I do, not to put too much stock in what those reviews say because in the end, a book one person loves, the next person hates, and visa-versa.
I write that because I'm glad I didn't read some of the reviews written here about this book, especially those who have complained that the author didn't get the historical facts right. Maybe he didn't but in the end - at least to me - it didn't matter.
This is a sweeping story, with a main character but many delightful and insightful added stories, of what life was like in a leper colony on a lush and beautiful, yet secluded, Hawaiian island. It spans Rachel Kalama's life, from when she was embarrassingly and shamefully taken away from her family at the age of seven to her final days as a released survivor of Hansen's disease.
There were a couple of reasons I really enjoyed this book. One was for the factual information it gave me, through fictional characters based on what was, or could have been, real people, about leprosy/Hansen's disease and the colony on Moloka'i. I had very limited knowledge of this disease and the book really opened my eyes to what it would have been like not only physically to live with it, but socially and emotionally. I thought the author did a great job with the character of Rachel as I found her very believable and never contrived. The secondary characters, whether inflicted with this horrible disease or not, gave real depth to the story.
The other reason I enjoyed it is because I'm a cancer survivor and this story had many parallels to what I felt during diagnosis and treatment. Sometimes a person feels isolated by what ever inflictions they encounter - whether real or perceived, no matter how serious or incidental. This story shows us that it's not what inflicts us, it's what we do with our lives while living with the infliction that matters.
My only complaint would be that I wanted to hear more about some of the events that made up Rachel's life, but I understand that the author couldn't linger on any particular one in order to move on with the story. In the end, I felt like I knew Rachel and her community personally. I laughed and I cried and I was sorry to see the story end.