Daughter of Moloka’i is the sequel to Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. And, unlike the first book, very little of it takes place on Moloka’i. I can’t discuss the plot without revealing at least one spoiler from the first book. So if you haven’t read Moloka’i, I’d suggest putting this review aside.
Moloka’i’s beloved Rachel comes back in this book. And while she’s a main character, this time the author focuses on her daughter Ruth. Ruth grows up in an adoptive family, so as not to expose her to Hansen’s disease (previously called leprosy).
Brennert follows Ruth from her time in the orphanage, to adjusting to life a family with different traditions, to being teased for her mixed, or “hapa,” Hawaiian and Japanese heritage.
And since her adoptive parents had emigrated from Japan, Ruth was also subject to WWII’s forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese immigrants and their American-born children. Although there were many concentration camps, one of the most well-known is Manzanar, which was north of Los Angeles. That’s where Ruth and her extended family are interned.
Brennert then tells what it was like for Ruth’s family to reestablish themselves after the war. Soon after that, Rachel and Ruth are reunited and the story continues on.
Alan Brennert does extensive research into the Japanese American experience in this time period, and it shows. He also has broad knowledge of Hawaiian traditions and culture, both past and present.
Daughter of Moloka’i is about the melding of cultures in a family—Hawaiian and Japanese in the older generation, and then American in the next. But Brennert doesn’t write it very naturally. Too many times, one person from a culture just stops to explain a point to a person from another culture. As much as the information is interesting, it was also more “telling” than “showing.” This made me feel like half the book was lecturing me.
My favorite part was the years Ruth’s family spent in the Japanese internment camps. Not favorite because it was fun and happy—because it’s the opposite of that. But because this is where the story shines. Brennert truly brings the real-life history and hardships to life through his characters.
It’s also worth noting that he and his publishers chose to launch this book today, February 19th. It’s the 77th anniversary of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, that committed all West Coast Japanese to the camps. Brennert honors the people who lived through this horrendous and unjust ordeal.
On the whole, this was a good book. But it wasn’t a great book for me. Moloka’i was so inspiring and focused on the resilience of its main character. Daughter of Moloka’i offered a new perspective, but felt more forced and less resplendent.
Many thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.