Saturday, July 4, 2009

Guest Review: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts

Summary: 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 . . .

Neil White, a journalist and magazine publisher, wanted the best for those he loved—nice cars, beautiful homes, luxurious clothes. He loaned money to family and friends, gave generously to his church, and invested in his community—but his bank account couldn't keep up. Soon White began moving money from one account to another to avoid bouncing checks. His world fell apart when the FBI discovered his scheme and a judge sentenced him to serve eighteen months in a federal prison.

But it was no ordinary prison. The beautiful, isolated colony in Carville, Louisiana, was also home to the last people in the continental United States disfigured by leprosy. Hidden away for decades, this small circle of outcasts had forged a tenacious, clandestine community, a fortress to repel the cruelty of the outside world. It is here, in a place rich with history, where the Mississippi River briefly runs north, amid an unlikely mix of leprosy patients, nuns, and criminals, that White's strange and compelling journey begins. He finds a new best friend in Ella Bounds, an eighty-year-old African American double amputee who had contracted leprosy as a child. She and the other secret people, along with a wacky troop of inmates, help White rediscover the value of simplicity, friendship, and gratitude.

Funny and poignant, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is an uplifting memoir that reminds us all what matters most.
-- William Morrow

When I read the description of IN THE SANCTUARY OF OUTCASTS by Neil White, I thought it looked like it had the potential to be a very powerful book. Then, I saw the video and knew it was an amazing story. I immediately thought my father might enjoy this book so I passed it along to him. Here are Booking Pap Pap's thoughts about IN THE SANCTUARY OF OUTCASTS:

Neil White was found guilty of check kiting in 1993 and sentenced to serve his time in a federal prison in Carville, Louisiana. To White’s surprise the prison also served as a home for patients of Hansen’s Disease, also know as leprosy. IN THE SANCTUARY OF OUTCASTS, Neil White chronicles his 12 months in federal prison.

White describes his time in prison through a series of stories about his relationships with the odd assortment of prisoners and the Hansen’s Disease patients. He also takes us back to various experiences throughout his life that give us a better understanding of who he is. White also discusses the history of Carville and sprinkles throughout the book interesting information about Hansen’s Disease.

When he enters prison he considers himself different than the other prisoners and wants no contact with the “lepers”. He tries to justify this attitude by making a point early in the book that he did not directly benefit from the bank fraud but used it as a way to keep his publishing business afloat. At this point White was neglecting the facts that his kiting schemes collapsed two businesses, loss investment money from families and friends and destroyed his marriage. A critical change occurs in White’s attitude when his wife informs him that she is dissolving the marriage and taking the children back to Oxford, Mississippi, the scene of his crime. He then begins to see himself as an outcast just like the other prisoners and the Hansen’s Disease patients.

White gradually builds a relationship with the other prisoners and finds a true friend in Emma, one of the Hansen’s patients. These relationships and the thought that he may lose his children give White the courage to look at his life more honestly and transform it.

White tells his story with humor and compassion, while maintaining the dignity of his fellow prisoners and the Hansen’s patients. The book is well written and is easy to read.

The reader must keep in mind that the book, written 15 years after his release from prison, is entirely written from Neil White’s perspective and it is difficult to determine whether he has truly reformed his life or not. Even so, the book is a meaningful, feel-good story about forgiveness and inspiration.

I think this book sounds incredible and it would probably make a great book club discussion book. I was happy to see that there is already a reading guide available. There is also a website devoted to the author and his book where I found a very interesting interview with the author. Make sure you check out this video too:

Thanks to Folio Literary Management for sending me a copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for reviewing it.


Beth F said...

Great point about the book being written in retrospect of many years. I thought the book was fascinating and it almost doesn't matter if White's transformation has "stuck" or not -- it's still a good read.

Pam said...

Wow - I've never heard of this book before but it sounds like a very powerful, worthwhile read. Thanks for the great review and intro to a new book!

bermudaonion said...

I'm looking forward to reading this book, so I'm glad to see Booking Pap Pap liked it. I trust his judgment!

Jenn's Bookshelves said...

I've seen so many positive reviews of this book. I'm looking forward to reading it soon!

Gwendolyn B. said...

Great review - I'm certainly interested in reading this book.