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14 / 30 books. 47% done!

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Saturday, August 21, 2021

Skenandore's Newest Offers Intriguing Look at Life With Leprosy in 1920's America

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As the wife of a silent film star, 32-year-old Mirielle West lives a luxurious life full of glitz and glamour.  Her two children are watched over by a vigilant nanny so she's free to indulge in illicit drinks, glittery parties, and whatever fawning needs to be done in order to advance her husband's career.  Despite her enviable lifestyle, Mirielle is plagued by grief and guilt after the recent drowning death of her young son.  She's managing the dark moods that so often sweep over her as best she can, while trying to ignore the fact that her husband seems to be purposely spending more time at the studio than at home.  A visit to the doctor over a minor burn is the last thing she needs, especially when her physician notices a concerning lesion on her hand.  Mirielle scoffs at his diagnosis of leprosy.  A woman like her couldn't possibly have such a dirty, foreign disease!  

Even though she's certain there's been a horrible mistake, Mirielle allows herself to be shipped off to the Carville Lepers Home in Louisiana.  She and her husband have been in the tabloids enough already—she can't allow more spurious gossip to make the papers.  Sure the stay will only be temporary, Mirielle turns up her nose at everything and everyone around her.  It's clear she doesn't belong in such depressing circumstances, dwelling among the deformed and damned.  The longer she remains, however, the more she must come to terms with her new life.  Can she create a meaningful existence in such a demoralizing place?  As Mirielle tentatively begins to reach out, she discovers friendship, hope, and love in the most unlikely of places.

Besides Hawaii's Moloka'i, I'd never heard of other leper colonies in the U.S., so this novel offered me a fascinating look into how the disease was treated here in the 1920's and 30's. Not only was it interesting to read about the medical procedures used, but it was intriguing (and heartbreaking) to learn how patients were seen and treated by those in the outside world. The fact that the disease was so misunderstood by both medical professionals and the general public is especially thought-provoking considering all that has gone on in our COVID world (particularly anti-Asian sentiment). For these reasons and more, The Second Life of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore would make a good, discussion-worthy book club pick.

As far as characters go, the book is filled with complex and likable folk, of whom Mirielle is actually my least favorite. She's sympathetic, yes, but she's also hard to like because of her snobbery, self-centeredness, and constant self-pity. Her evolution as a character is evident throughout the novel, but I still found it difficult to really relate to her. Story-wise, this novel moves slowly without a focused plot to really keep it moving. Still, it's compelling and I definitely wanted to finish the book so I could see how it ended. While I didn't absolutely love this novel, I did like it for its intriguing subject matter, its sensitive portrayal of a devastating disease, its thought-provoking story, and its atmospheric historical setting. 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), blood/gore, mild sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Second Life of Mirielle West from the generous folks at Kensington Books via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


  1. This sounds quite fascinating. Besides India, there is not a lot of talk about leprosy and where it occured. Nice review Susan.

  2. This sounds like such an interesting scenario. It is crazy to think about how primitive our medical knowledge was as recently as 100 years ago. The comparison to our current situation probably adds an extra layer to this one. Thanks for sharing!

  3. This is a whole new world to me. I've been intrigued by novels set in TB "homes" and clinics from that era, but I don't remember hearing about something like this.


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