Moloka'i: a book review & tea pairing
Updated: Jan 19
Book star rating: 4/5
Tea pairing: Peach Mango tea blend by Tea Chest Hawaii
Maybe it's the former English major in me, but I love reading books set in the places I'm living or visiting. Reading novels or memoirs really brings a location, culture, and/or history alive to me. By immersing myself in the story, I experience a place on a much deeper level than I'd otherwise feel, especially when my travel time is always drastically shorter than I'd love it to be.
So while I have the opportunity to live here in Hawaii for a couple of years, you can bet I'm going to be reading lots of books that take place here and sharing them with you.
The first one I'd like to recommend is Moloka'i (or Molokai) by Alan Brennert.
Molokai (published in 2003) is a historical fiction novel covering the years 1891 - 1970 on the islands of Oahu and Molokai in Hawaii. It follows the life of a native Hawaiian girl named Rachel who, at the age of 6, is discovered to have leprosy, "the separating sickness," and is forced to leave her family to live in the leper colony on the island of Molokai.
I love that this book covers a part of history rarely covered in history classes or books (as a matter of fact, growing up on the mainland I don't believe Hawaii was included at all in any of my history classes). And that's one of my favorite things about books: through the power of story, forgotten parts of history can be preserved in a memorable way.
The span of time covered includes not only the force quarantine on Molokai but also other huge events in history: the capture of the Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani, the forced annexation of Hawaii into the United States, a major tsunami, the invention of cars, the invention of planes, World War I, and the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II. That's quite a chunk of history! I love that these events are told through the unique perspective of those segregated from society on a remote peninsula. The residents of Kalaupapa encounter many inventions years behind the rest of the world, but for many of the events (like the Pearl Harbor bombing), they have a front row seat.
While the novel isn't written by a Hawaiian or a woman, I think overall Alan Brennert does a good job of writing from the perspective of a Hawaiian girl maturing into a woman. The dialogue and experiences don't feel unnatural or make it too glaringly obvious that the character is written by a man. Brennert also incorporates lots of Hawaiian words, customs, beliefs, and perspectives, and the book has been warmly received in Hawaii.
There are times when I think Brennert sacrifices character development for the sake of covering more famous moments in history, however. The last quarter of the book jumps through history at light speed with the main purpose of covering those big world events like Pearl Harbor.
Still, it's a beautiful novel with a lot of heart, and like all great historical fiction, it's bound to teach you something.
I definitely recommend this book to read individually or with a book club! And I look forward to reading more books by Alan Brennert.
Pair this book with...
Now time for my tea pairing! I've paired Molokai with the Mango Peach Tea from Tea Chest Hawaii.
This tea is a blend of green and black teas with natural flavors of mango and peach. While it can be brewed as a hot tea, I went for an iced tea version. The flavor is light, bright, fruity, and refreshing. It's bound to fly your tastebuds across oceans to the tropical paradise of Hawaii.
You can order this tea online or purchase it at any Whole Foods in Hawaii.
Tip: I normally don't add sweetener to my teas, but I think this iced tea calls for it. I found the flavor can fall a little flat until you mix in a small amount of your favorite sweetener, which brightens it right up. I'd also recommend steeping the iced tea version for longer than the 1-2 minutes suggested on the packaging.
About the company:
Tea Chest Hawaii is a national award-winning Hawaii-based tea company that combines the owner's multicultural heritage in its whole leaf teas. Its unique tea blends incorporate elements of Asian, American, and native Hawaiian influences. They source their ingredients directly from farmers in Taiwan, India, Japan, and even small growers in Hawaii.
Order any of their teas online and arrange for local pick-up on Oahu or ship it anywhere in the US (orders over $80 ship free).
Once COVID restrictions ease up a bit in Hawaii, I can't wait to visit Molokai for myself.
Have you ever read a book set in Hawaii? Let me know in the comments!
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