This is the wrenching history of the development, evolution, and eventual obsolescence of the leper colony established in 1866 on the isolated and only sometimes accessible peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai--and the lives of the people who were exiled there to die over a period of more than 100 years. The tale opens with the declaration by the Board of Health that all persons proven (or strongly suggested) to be afflicted with leprosy be exiled immediately to the site on Molokai.

The author dramatically describes the selection and separation of the exiles from their families and the tortuous and sometimes deadly sea voyage to their primitive new homeland. Mixed with the public policy and the individuals who made and implemented it, are the descriptions of the hospital in Honolulu where diagnoses and dispositions were rendered, as well as the poignant personal stories of the "detainees." The reader follows the colony from the arrival of its first 13 patients in 1866, through its peak population of 1,144, to its residual 28 in 2003.


This history is important reading for those persons involved in public health, infectious disease specialties, and the social and economic issues of the disabled, particularly those isolated by the potentially contagious natures of their particular diagnoses. The ability of persons whom society shuns to make productive and satisfying lives for themselves is both heartening and compelling and speaks to the strength of humankind to rise in the face of unbelievable adversity. This history, drawn from detailed research into a myriad of documents, government records, and personal letters and journals, humanizes what could have become a mechanical examination of an experiment--an experiment in long term quarantine that likely was not only inhumane, but unnecessary.


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Lisa Drew Book/Scribner

Place Published

New York



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