Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Publication Info: Published February 19th 2019 by St. Martin’s Press. E-book edition provided by NetGalley. Other editions available.Daughter of Molokai

Summary: In the Kapi’olani Home for Girls on O’ahu, three-year-old Ruth is a lively handful. Ruth loves animals and wants a pet of her own. But as loving as the nuns in the Catholic orphanage are, they must maintain the strict rules and can’t allow Ruth to be an exception.

But Ruth is already an exception in the Hawaiian orphanage. While all the other girls are also children of lepers, they are of pure Hawaiian heritage.  Ruth is different. She is hapa, someone of mixed heritage. Ruth is half Japanese, born to her parents who met in the leper colony on Moloka’i. When potential adoptive parents meet her, they turn away, not wanting to take on a child who not only carries the stigma of leprosy but is also hapa.

Finally, a Japanese couple adopts Ruth. She becomes Ruth Dai Watanabe and lives with her two brothers and new parents in Chinatown. She learns to speak Japanese and is taught their customs. Ruth thrives in the love of her adoptive family, but she is still hapa.

The novel follows Ruth as her family moves to California. There she grows up and has a family of her own. But after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Ruth and all the other people of Japanese descent on the west coast are rounded up in concentration camps or sent back to Japan. After the camps are closed, Ruth and her family return to California to try to put their lives back together. It is after going through all this that Ruth gets a surprise and finally learns to accept her heritage.

Comments: I absolutely loved the first Moloka’i book and wasn’t disappointed by this sequel, Daughter of Moloka’i. While the first takes place almost exclusively on the island, this one reflects the changes in the treatment of lepers, both socially and medically, and moves to the greater world. A large portion of the book takes place in the Japanese internment camps and from the resources listed in the back of the book, I know the descriptions and details were well researched. In writing about Ruth’s mixed heritage and the atrocity of rounding up the Japanese Americans (and not rounding up the German Americans, for example), the author makes some profound observations of what it’s like to be non-white in America. What happened to the Japanese is not “in the past”. It happened and continues to happen to Native Americans, Blacks and currently to Hispanics and others. Fear and ignorance are powerful forces that destroy people’s lives.

Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction, General Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction and Literary Fiction.