How to Escape from a Leper Colony: A Novella and Stories is the second of four books I chose to read in preparation for the Trinidad and Tobago Literary festival. I almost decided to skip the third and fourth books after finishing this one because I wanted to dive right into Yanique’s novel, Land of Love and Drowning.
I read many sections in these stories that made me pause, close the book, close my eyes, and just sit with it. And that’s how it took me ten days to read a book that could’ve been read in two. “Fresh new voice” sounds clichè but it’s true; her writing is refreshing.
The hodgepodge of characters was refreshing as well. With many of them being immigrants, or the children of immigrants to the Caribbean, they are exceptionally diverse in race and religious backgrounds. Observing how these individuals bond or separate based on these differences adds depth to the stories.Then there are moments you completely forget you are reading about people that have differences at all.
I believe that nothing under the sun is new. So the originality in some of these stories was pleasantly surprising. As if the stories themselves weren’t captivating enough, I was enthralled by method she uses to tell the last two. The same setting is visited three times but from the point of view of three different characters. As you read, and think back, it changes your opinion of them from when they were first introduced. You reassess the things they said, the things they did. It made me think about a familiar saying, one that probably isn’t familiar enough, “It’s hard to hate someone if you know their story.”
How to Escape from a Leper Colony, the first short story in the book, was the winner of Boston Review’s short story contest and is published on its website. The story, set on Chacachacare Island, is where we meet a fourteen year old girl sent there to bury her father and because she had become a leper. I plan to visit Chacachacare Island this week. It is now abandoned.
I had not heard of this book, published in 2010, before doing a search for books by authors attending the festival. I’m glad I found it only five years after its release instead of fifteen or twenty! Although it has its flaws, I almost forgot what those were because of all the good. I’ll have a front row seat when she does her book reading on Saturday.
“He runs his hands along the coffin in the show window...It must cost ten thousand dollars...He wonders if it is the kind of coffin he could be buried in. If he is worth this kind of thing or if he can simply afford this kind of thing - which is sometimes the same and sometimes different depending on whom you are talking to.” How to Escape from a Leper Colony
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