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Review: ‘In the Sanctuary of Outcasts’ by Neil White

Review: ‘In the Sanctuary of Outcasts’ by Neil White post image

Title: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts
Author: Neil White
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2010
Acquired: Bought
Rating: ★★★☆☆

One Sentence Summary: Neil White was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for bank fraud, and to serve his sentence he was sent to Careville, Louisiana, home to the last people in the United States disfigured by leprosy.

One Sentence Review: White’s memoir has the ingredients to be fascinating — and in parts, it is — but when writing about himself White manages to make the most unique stories feel flat.

Long Review: Neil White had it all — a successful publishing business, a lovely wife and two adorable children, and the respect of everyone he came in contact with. But White’s success was built on lies, a series of check kiting schemes used to cover huge losses and an extravagant lifestyle. It didn’t take long for White’s schemes to be uncovered, and as a result he was convicted of bank fraud and sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.

White was sent to Carville, Louisiana, a low-security federal prison that was also the home to the last colony of people in the United States with leprosy. This community of outcasts — prisoners and patients — shared a home sheltered from the outside world. The journalist in White initially planned to use his prison time to research an exposé on life in the prison, but as he got to know the other inmates and patients, he started to find a new perspective on his life. In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is White’s memoir about his time in Carville.

The odd and controversial history of Carville is a story that I’m glad found a narrator in White. Many of the incidents in the history of medicine and public health are distasteful today, and the treatment of people with leprosy is no exception. Many of the patients were were taken from their homes after being diagnosed with the disease and forced into isolation. The fact that they have overcome this treatment and built a home for themselves makes much of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts a book I’m glad I spent time reading.

But what struck me in reflecting back on the memoir is how little emotional connection I had in most of the story. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy reading the book, it’s that I felt like White never really got me to become invested in his journey, and by extension, the main narrative of the book. I found pre-prison Neil off-putting (as I’m sure I was supposed to), but never really felt like the lessons he wrote about learning in prison meant anything.

Certainly, the stories of the leprosy patients and the people who make Carville their home were interesting, but something about White’s style kept me from really investing in their stories, too. I think maybe if White had spend a little less time reflecting on his life and more time telling the stories of those around him, I may have enjoyed the book more.

However, I get the feeling that I’m in the minority on this one. If you want some other opinions, check out the reviews below.

Other Reviews: Devourer of Books | The Book Lady’s Blog | Jenn’s Bookshelves | S. Krishna’s Books | Capricious Reader |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) March 29, 2011, 10:41 am

    Most of the reviews I’ve read have been very positive, so I’ve set my expectations high for this one. I hope I’m not disappointed.

    • Kim March 31, 2011, 7:32 pm

      Kathy: I’ve read basically all good reviews of it too. I’m not sure if my expectations were too high or what, but it was just a little off for me.

  • Jenny March 29, 2011, 7:04 pm

    I started reading this a while ago (my mother loved it), and whilst I rejoice in its Louisiana setting and everything (hooray to Louisiana!), I wasn’t enjoying it enough to continue. So you’re not alone!

    • Kim March 31, 2011, 7:33 pm

      Jenny: Oh good, I’m glad I’m not alone 🙂

  • Trisha March 29, 2011, 7:27 pm

    This is such an interesting tale, so it’s too bad it didn’t quite work.

    • Kim March 31, 2011, 7:34 pm

      Trisha: Yeah, it was a bit of a bummer. It was good, just did grab me the way I expected.

  • Meg March 30, 2011, 1:03 pm

    Sorry to hear about the lack of emotional connection with the story — as a reader, that’s always the most important thing for me. I’m glad to have read your excellent review, though — the premise sounds fascinating. I’m sure it was heartbreaking, in some ways, to learn about the people of Carville, though.

    • Kim March 31, 2011, 7:35 pm

      Meg: The premise is fascinating. That’s a big reason I kept with it — I wanted to know more about Carville and the people who lived there.

  • S. Krishna April 2, 2011, 3:01 pm

    Now that I reflect, I think I can understand your lack of an emotional connection with the story. I still enjoyed it very much, so I’m sorry it didn’t work for you.

    • Kim April 3, 2011, 11:56 am

      S. Krishna: I liked it too, just wanted to like it more, you know? But oh well, not all books work for everyone 🙂

  • Jennifer April 7, 2011, 1:20 pm

    This sounds like a fascinating story and one that I was totally unaware of. Although, I am always cautious of books that I can’t really connect to emotionally. Still, I feel like this is a book that I would at least consider reading. If my list of TBR wasn’t already miles long.

    • Kim April 8, 2011, 4:31 pm

      Jennifer: Ha, I know the feeling! At this point, I almost only want to put books on it that are amazing 🙂 But, other reviews of this book were really good, so part of me wonders if it was just me being cranky when I read it or something.

  • karen September 5, 2013, 9:06 am

    I read this book a year and a half after you. I had a different reaction from you. The author waited ten years before writing this book and I think as a result he could look back at the manipulator he was from a distance. I do believe he changed for the better and can now be trusted to tell the truth.