Monday, June 8, 2009

Review: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White


Neil White is convicted of a white collar crime and sentenced to one year in a minimum security prison. Upon arrival, he quickly learns that Carville is much more than he had expected. Not only is it a prison, it is also a leprosarium.

At first Neil is alarmed, but the more time he spends at the prison, the more he realizes that the patients have much to teach him about life...a wealth of wisdom learned from being the outcasts of society. As his relationships grow with the patients, so does his self-awareness and desire to change.

I really really enjoyed this book for a couple of different reasons. The first is the history contained in the pages of this memoir was history I had never learned or heard of before. It was shocking and touching all at the same time. To be honest, when I think of leprosy (now called Hansen's Disease) I think of the Biblical stories (only one came back!!! ;) and I think of India. And really that's it. I have never thought about what it was like for those afflicted in the United States or what they went through. Which just emphasizes how much society chose to forget them...to banish them not only from sight but also from mind. It's heartbreaking.

Secondly, I was really impressed with how honest Neil was about his own journey. He completely owned up to the crime he had committed, the fact that it deeply hurt a lot of people, and the flaws in his own ways of thinking that had led him down that path. I think it takes a lot of guts to do that.

One of the things I really puzzled over was just how long it took this story to get told. Neil was at Carville in the early 90s. It might be somewhere in the press papers, but either it took that long to get published, or he really let the life lessons have time to sink in.

The memoir is told with a mixture of stories about the other prisoners at Carville, the patients, and Neil's own life. It' engaging at every turn, and even quite funny at points. Many photographs are included. I do recommend this one.

Rating: 4.25/5
Things You Might Want to Know: There is some language.




Amy

15 comments:

bkclubcare said...

I've got all sorts of questions - guess the best idea is GO GET the book, right?

Julie P. said...

I passed this one along to my dad -- after reading a few reviews, I'm regretting it.

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

I'm guessing it was awhile before he wrote it, although it still may have taken some time to get published, too. I don't think when he left prison he necessarily had the idea of writing down his experiences any more. I really hadn't ever thought about Americans affected with Hansen's disease either.

bermudaonion said...

I'm so glad you liked this one, since it's in my the stack on my nightstand.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Sounds really interesting! Your review really does make one want to know more!

Liz said...

At first I thought this was fiction, but then realized from your review it's a memoir. It sounds intriguing. I'll check my library. The book I just finished isn't really a memoir, but it semi-autobiographical, and also covers earlier years of our history. But in this case, it's after WWII, because it's about a former WWII fighter pilot and his experiences as a civilian test pilot. Lots of adventure, which is fun, and lots of "scenes from the cockpit," so to speak, plus even some spirituality and romance. (My husband is getting into it now, as he LOVES stuff about aviation and flying.)
The book is His Edge
and is by Wayne Harding. Kind of fun to learn things you didn't really know, but have it be while being entertained, as well.

SuziQoregon said...

I'm really looking forward to reading this one. My library has it listed as "on order" but I'm #1 on the waiting list!!

Ali said...

I'd heard about the leprosy colonies in Hawaii, but that's about all I knew about modern-day leprosy. Sounds like a fascinating read.

Lenore said...

Wow - there is a modern day prison populated by white collar criminals and lepers? How bizzare is that?!

sarah pekkanen said...

I was so interested to see your review. I attended a writing conference last summer, and this author was there along with his agent, Jeff Klineman, and his editor. My impression was the book had been sold fairly recently, so I'm not sure what accounts for the gap in time between his experience and the book. He was a nice, low-key guy, and I remember being very curious about his book. I'll have to pick it up now that it's out.

sarah pekkanen said...

OK, you got me all curious so I checked it out :) The book was sold in October of 2006, and since it's non-fiction, it might have been sold on proposal. Since it takes between one and two years to get the book from sale to bookshelf, that leaves a gap for writing time. By the way, it was sold at auction for a good six-figure amount, which means it must have impressed a lot of publishers. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Beth F said...

I didn't read your post, but I'm reading the book now. It fits the cliche: It's really hard to put down.

Literary Feline said...

I read another review of this one earlier today and have to say it sure does sound interesting. I remember reading Moloka'i not too long ago, which touched on a leper colony in Hawaii. Although that was fiction, the author borrowed quite a bit from factual accounts.

Jenny Girl said...

Not my usual book, but this sounds like a lovely and interesting read. Great review Amy!
Thanks.

S. Krishna said...

I thought this book was amazing. Great review!

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