Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White

book cover for In The Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White
In the Sanctuary of Outcasts
by Neil White
Harper Perennial, 2010
352 pages
Source: TLC Tours (Thanks, Trish!)

Summary in a Sentence:

 Journalist and editor White is was sentenced to prison at Carville, the only leper colony remaining in the United States, for committing a relatively innocuous financial crime.


 Daddy is going to camp. That's what I told my children. A child psychologist suggested it. “Words like prison and jail conjure up dangerous images for children,” she explained. But it wasn't camp . . .

What do you get when you combine leprosy patients, nuns, corrections officers, and prison inmates? No, not the beginnings of a bad get the makings of a great memoir of a special place. Only in the South would there be a prison that also houses some of the nation's last living leprosy patients.

I've got a definite soft spot in my heart for Southern writers. I'm from Tennessee and the rest of my family is from Mississippi, so I love the eccentric characters that tend to pop up in Southern stories, fiction and non-fiction alike, perhaps because I recognize so many of them from daily life. 

To be completely honest, this book exceeded my expectations. I am a great fan of the memoir genre, but some writers tend to veer into a dangerously self-gratifying arena of autobiography. This book is at turns funny and introspective, without being grandiose. Each chapter is a different vignette of White's life in prison or life before prison, complete with an accompanying snapshot of family members and leprosy patients. This is a very character driven memoir, including mob lawyers, murderers, and drug dealers. One of my favorite characters was Link, a foul-mouthed inmate who constantly poked fun at White, and who in the end showed that even he had a soft spot when it came to his family. In the end, an interesting commentary on how people from different social and racial classes let former barriers drop once they are forced together involuntarily for long periods.



Zibilee said...

I have been hearing a lot about this book and think it sounds fascinating. Leprosy is something that you don't hear a lot about these days, and when I discovered that there were still some unfortunate people with the disease today, it really piqued my interest. This would probably make a terribly interesting read for me, so I will be on the lookout for it!! Thanks!

Aarti said...

Like Heather, I think the premise of this book sounds really good. I'm glad it exceeded your expectations!

Ryan said...

I liked this one way more than I thought I would, even with me wanting to read it quite a bit before I got the chance to. I'm really glad you enjoyed it. Great review.

Andi said...

I can never say no to lepers. Will definitley be seeking this one out.

Carin Siegfried said...

This sounds absolutely fascinating! How did I miss it? Added to my TBR list now. Oh, and if you're interested in learning more about leprosy in America, The Colony was a fascinating book about Molokai, Hawaii.

Veens said...

I have not read many memoirs but that line has intrigued me.
I am surely going to keep a watch on this one.

Anonymous said...

"this book exceeded my expectations." Wow - it's not often that I can say that about a book! I'm so glad that you enjoyed this one, it really does seem to be a worthwhile read. Thanks for being a part of the tour!

Mystica said...

This review sounds so intriguing. I did read Victoria Hislop's The Island and the only common theme is that it was a closed place for lepers. This is different of course but I think the thoughts and feelings of inmates would be similar.

Thank you for highlighting this book

Lisa said...

I really liked this one a lot--White seemed to have been very honest and didn't try to paint himself as being completely reformed. But he really made me care about so many of the people he met.

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