Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"In The Sanctuary of Outcasts" by Neil White

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts
Thursdays with Maureen's latest book discussion was In The Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White.  11 members attended which is a rather large group for a summer meeting.  Most enjoyed the book and as sometimes happens with book club selections, even those that didn't particularly think Mr. White was the best writer were glad they read his memoir.

Neil White was a successful Southern journalist and publisher incarcerated for bank fraud in the early 1990s on a former plantation in Carville, Louisiana that also housed patients suffering from Hansen's disease.  Hansen's disease is the proper term for people suffering from the neurological disease of leprosy.  The story is about his journey from arrogance to a much more humble outlook.  You can imagine his distress in his first days in prison.  He had a privileged life with a fantastic job, nice family, prestige and everything that money can buy.  He tells his young children that he's going to camp.  There he meets some hardened prisoners and also leprosy patients housed there, some for over 50 years.  One of the first patients he meets holds out his hand for White to shake but the man has no fingers.  Eventually, he learns to accept the disfigured patients and the wisdom they impart to him. He says that it turned out to be a "wonderful, wonderful experience" and he doesn't think he would have had the same life changing experience if he'd been in a regular federal prison. In a poignant sentence towards the end, White thanks the judge that sentenced him to Carville.  

The book is a fascinating account of a group of very diverse individuals, sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad.  Publishers Weekly says "Brisk, ironic and perceptive, White's introspective memoir puts a magnifying glass to a flawed life, revealing that all of life is to be savored and respected".  

For further information, the fiction book Moloka'i by Alan Brennert comes highly recommended.  There is also a documentary film entitled Triumph at Carville - Leprosy in America that takes you inside the daily workings of one of the most intriguing medical establishments in our country.  The DVD, An Uncommon Kindness, is about Father Damien, the priest that lived among lepers on Moloka'i and ultimately was infected and died of leprosy.  

Our library has a book bag with eight copies of In The Sanctuary of Outcasts that is available for checkout for book clubs.  There is much to discuss and learn in this memoir.  It would make an excellent selection for your next book club read.  Be sure to check it out!

No comments:

Post a Comment