I don’t even remember when I received this book from The Catholic Company. Before the move…and that was January. I am not a diligent book reviewer. I do the best I can.
I read St. Damien of Molokai – Apostle of the Exiled by Margaret & Matthew Bunson. Right up front, I want to say that I did like the book. I learned quite a bit about the history of Hawaii, the personal background of St. Damien as well as many people who knew him, the conditions at the leprosy camp on Molokai, and St. Damien’s work there with the lepers.
There were a few things, however, that were…different…from other biographies I have enjoyed. First of all, the book is not strictly chronological. The chapters are set up to cover specific topics. The chapter itself will be mainly chronological, but then the next chapter will deal with different people or issues. That chapter will also be fairly chronological, but the time period may overlap the previous chapter, so the authors may take you back in time to cover these new topics. It took me a few chapters to catch on to this, so I was a bit confused at first and the book felt very jumpy.
Besides being a bit disjointed in time, the biggest problem with this method of presenting a biography is that I felt like I was looking at a series of snapshots rather than a movie. It was very difficult for me to see the big picture and all the various issues that were happening at once. St. Damien was dealing with many many issues all at the same time: politics, personality conflicts with his superiors and other people on the island, the stress of being isolated, the stress of working with ostracized people who were dying, the challenges of living with leprosy, the strain of being the subject of unflattering gossip. When these topics are brought up one at a time, it makes it easier to discuss that particular topic in detail, but harder for the reader to grasp the overall significance of having that stress along with everything else that was happening to the man.
The only other disappointment I had was that there was no dramatization of his life. No dialogues, no painted scenes. The authors stuck with the facts as they were known. They quoted letters, notes, diaries, but they did not re-invent a scene. I admire them for sticking with the facts and not wanting to “quote” a man when there is no proof that he said those exact words. But, personally, it was hard for me to get a good idea of his personality without him being fleshed out through dialogue, thoughts, or actions.
I hate to write bad things about a book, which is probably why I procrastinated on this post.
So, to conclude I want to repeat that I did think this is a well-researched, well-written book. I learned many things I did not know about Hawaii and the leper colony as well as about the most famous non-native Hawaiian. The drawbacks are my own personal preferences, and had I known about them in advance, I might not have been as bothered by them.
I received this book for free from The Catholic Company
in exchange for my honest review. If you blog and would like to be a Catholic Company reviewer and receive free books (they don’t pressure you to do your reviews quickly, I assure you), then check out this link