January 11, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST

The Colony

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
John Tayman
publisher
Scribner
genre
Nonfiction

While lepers are still synonymous with social outcasts, John Tayman’s fascinating tale of Hawaii’s infamous leper colony, Molokai, reminds us why the word once carried such fearful cultural baggage. Established in 1866 with 12 ”prisoners” forced to serve out their disease-ravaged lives in isolation, Molokai eventually housed thousands of inmates diagnosed (and often misdiagnosed) with leprosy and soon became a worldwide symbol of human decay. Thankfully, this comprehensive history gives voice to the very people who suffered and survived there. In deftly sketching notable Molokai figures like 19th-century Catholic priest Father Damien de Veuster and the still-thriving Makia Malo, a blind patient who became the first colonist to obtain a college degree in The Colony, former Outside editor Tayman brings dignity to the 150-year history of a heavily burdened (but hardly defeated) population that endured a shameful chapter of segregationist history.

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