Friday, April 13, 2012
The novel opens in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1891. Rachel is five years old. Rachel's mother, Dorothy, and her siblings are introduced. She has two brothers, Benjamin and Kimo and a sister two years older named Sarah.
Rachel asks when her father, who is a sailor, will return home, but Dorothy does not know. During Sunday school, the teacher is trying to tell a story from the bible, but Rachel repeatedly interrupts to ask questions. Rachel is particularly interested in geography, and she wants to know on which sea Jesus Christ was supposed to have walked. The teacher does not know the answer, and every time he mentions a new location name, Rachel wants to know more geographic details.
One day Rachel accompanies her mother and siblings to Honolulu Harbor and waits for her father's ship to arrive. The family is delighted to have their father, Henry Kalama, back home, and that night they have a feast and invite many relatives. Rachel is particularly fond of her Uncle Pono, and as usual she enjoys sitting in his lap. Henry always brings gifts for his family, and Rachel is fond of dolls from all over the world. This time Henry has brought her a matryoshka doll.
The next day in school Rachel and all of the students learn that King Kalakuana has died. School is dismissed for the rest of the day. Rachel and her family go to pay final respects to the king. Rachel's parents, like most Hawaiians, are deeply saddened by the king's death. Rachel doesn't understand dying. She thinks of it as a temporary going away, much like her father sailing away for months at a time.
When the family goes to see Henry off on his next sailing voyage, they notice a ship called the Mokoli'i. Rachel sees many people crying as others board the ship, and she learns that the people boarding the ship are sick. Rachel wants to know why they are getting on a ship instead of being taken care of, and Sarah says the people are lepers, and they are on their way to Moloka'i.