May 2024
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The Leper Compound, Paula Nangle

This short novel tells essentially the life story of Colleen, through her childhood and school years to her adult life in Africa.  The arc of the story seems to follow her family, and we are given snapshots of her life as the years go by in the chapters.  Most notably, the novel seems to show the struggle between classes, the challenge of living, and gives us an intimate look into the different and contradictory cultures of southern Africa.

I can’t say that I liked Colleen.  For some reason, it’s very difficult to feel attached to her, and perhaps this is Nangle’s prose style.  None of the characters are particularly sympathetic and there just never came a moment when I cared what happened to her.  The book was interesting and extremely literary.  There is so much that I could derive from this book if I tried – it would be an excellent subject for a paper and it presents plenty of subjects, not the least of which is the leprosy in the title, but also includes the mental illness of Colleen’s sister and the violence of the rebels.

In truth, The Leper Compound is a very thoughtful and well-written book.  It went slowly, but I don’t regret the time spent reading it, especially given that it is under 200 pages.  This is a worthy look into Africa’s culture, an important reminder when so many Americans are insulated against it.  Colleen experiences many emotions that are very common, like finding her first love, and this is essentially a tale of her coming of age, but the backdrop is so different, and even the prose style makes her experiences different and special.

Would I recommend this book?  I would say yes, but I wouldn’t read it for enjoyment or escapism – it is a book that is meant to be pondered over and carefully considered, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to do so. Buy this book on Amazon.


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