Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On the Nightstand: In The Sanctuary of Outcasts

I recently finished one of the most stellar, well-written, and compelling non-fiction books I've come across in at least two years.

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, a memoir by Mississippi-born and bred and former Louisiana resident Neil White, is a detailed account of one man's drive for success, his mistakes, and his payment for those errors. Not only is the writing ridiculously captivating and page-turning for any reader, but the entire novel is set in Mississippi (mainly Oxford and the Gulf Coast), and Louisiana (New Orleans, the Baton Rouge area, and Carville).

Ok. I'm going to stop trying to summarize this work myself and just quote the author's own website:

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 clothing. 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 Neil 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 eighteen months in federal prison.

But it was no ordinary prison. The isolated, beautiful 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 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, amidst an unlikely mix of leprosy patients, nuns, and criminals, that Neil’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 Neil re-discover 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.

I really do highly recommend this read for anyone who likes great writing, interesting non-fiction, sheer honesty, and other people's views of the South.

Also, if any of you hear of a book signing with this guy anywhere in Louisiana or Mississippi, please let me know. I'd really like to meet him.

And finally, thanks a billion to Angela Long, who recommended it to me! Best read in a while, by far.

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