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In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White Book Cover

Title:  In the Sanctuary of Outcasts

Author:  Neil White

No. of Pages:  316

First Released:  June 2009

Synopsis (Courtesy of TLC Book Tours):  “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.”

Comments and Critique:  Memoirs are funny things; one’s appreciation of the entire memoir hinges on how well-received the writer is.  If one does not like the narrator, then chances are that one is not going to enjoy the memoir.  I have fallen on both sides of this situation; I have read memoirs where I was disgusted by the narrator and thus could barely finish the memoir.  Similarly, I have fallen in love with the narrator and then adored every word.  In my experiences, one either likes the narrator or does not; there is very little middle ground.

Then I read In the Sanctuary of Outcasts.  At first, I was a bit disgusted with Mr. White.  He showed no remorse for his actions.  He comes across as ego-maniacal and considers himself better than everyone else.  He refuses to consider that he is a bad guy.  However, as he learns more about Carville and its inmates and patients, something unusual happens.  Mr. White matures and feels remorse.  He realizes that his experiences mean nothing in the face of what the leprosy patients have faced in their lifetimes.  He goes from being rather unlikable to becoming someone who realizes his frailty and obstacles in life and refuses to ignore them.  His growth is remarkable for a memoir.

I suspect that anyone cannot change after a year spent living next to and working with leprosy patients.  This history of Carville, its patients, and their individuals histories are poignant and fascinating.  The background of leprosy patients, their treatment by society throughout history and even into present day is astonishing in how little we still know about Hansen’s disease and upsetting that people can and still do treat others like that.  Ella, Harry, Stan and Sarah – they come alive through Mr. White’s words, which are a testament to their dignity and humanity in the face of their struggles.  More importantly, Mr. White proves that true beauty is internal and eternal.

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is more than a memoir.  In the end, it is a reminder that our troubles are insignificant to what others have faced.  Through his incarceration, Mr. White recognizes the truth behind Ella’s words – that while we cannot change who we are, we can change our circumstances and our approach to life.  He shares with us the importance of taking time to enjoy life, of living simply, and of not bemoaning our choices and subsequent consequences of those choices.  In the end, Mr. White offers us powerful life lessons that each and every one of us need to take to heart.  Even with its dubious beginnings, I am grateful that I read In the Sanctuary of Outcasts for its history lessons, for its introduction to a world completely different from my own, and for its lessons in humanity.

For more reviews and reflections on In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, please check out these other tour hosts!

Thank you to Trisha from TLC Book Tours for this review copy!

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