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The Leper Compound

by Paula Nangle

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285749,667 (3.09)12
"The Leper Compound will . . . remain with the reader long after the book has been closed."--Stuart Dybek, author ofI Sailed with Magellan For Colleen, motherless at seven, isolated from her schizophrenic younger sister, illness unleashes the uncanny and essential of human identity. Growing into womanhood in Rhodesia's final conflict-ridden years, she transgresses social, racial, and political boundaries in her search for connection. This masterly novel is a searing evocation of late-twentieth-century African life. Paula Nangle was raised by missionaries in the United States and southern Africa and now lives in Benton Harbor, Michigan. This is her first novel.… (more)
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In [The Leper Compound], Paula Nangle draws from her childhood spent in southern Africa and her experiences as a psychiatric nurse to craft this insightful debut novel about pre- and postcolonial Zimbabwe and South Africa. The story traces a European girl's maturation to adulthood, compounded by her shifting sense of identity and belonging, and illnesses that affect both her and those who are closest to her.

You can read the rest of the review in issue 15 of Belletrista: http://www.belletrista.com/2012/Issue15/reviews_11.php ( )
1 vote kidzdoc | Jan 12, 2012 |
Summary

The Leper Compound is the story of Colleen, the daughter of a European coffee farmer who grew up as an ex-patriate in Rhodesia, the country which is now Zimbabwe. When Colleen was seven, her mother died of malaria. Her only sister spent much of their childhood in and out of institutions due to mental illness; Colleen was sent to boarding school, coming home at holidays to spend time with her father.

Much of the struggle to throw off British colonialism occurred during Colleen's teenage years, although she was somewhat sheltered and oblivious to the political climate. What did affect her is the racial tensions that existed in the country at the time. Colleen seemed to live her life with a foot in both worlds. She enjoyed the financial benefits of her father's position, but most of her friends and lovers were native Rhodesians. Try as Colleen might to fit into the Shona-speaking world, there always existed an unspoken divide and undeniable differences.

Review

The Leper Compound represents Paula Nangle's debut as a novelist. Her writing style is intense, poetic, and absolutely beautiful. The book is a mere 192 pages, but don't expect to fly through it. It is best savored slowly. Every event in Colleen's life, every thought that crosses her mind seems laden with implied meaning.

As the reader follows Colleen from girlhood to adulthood, sickness and disease seem to be mile markers along the path, and the events that make the strongest impression, illicit the strongest emotions from Colleen. She contracts malaria as a child. She is witness to her sister's mental illness, watches as a local teacher succombs to cancer, visits a leper compound with her boyfriend, and eventually becomes a nurse. The fact that Paula Nangle is a psychiatric nurse may account for her haunting, detailed accounts of medical situations. Nangle renders these scenes with vibrant detail that leaves a lasting image in the reader's mind.

Nangle spent part of her childhood as the daughter of missionaries living in southern Africa. Her experiences there surely lend an authenticity to the story and its setting. According to her website, Nangle wrote the Leper Comound in order to recreate through fiction scenes from her childhood in Africa and her work as a nurse. She has clearly and skillfully done just that with this spare, subtle, and stunning debut. ( )
  schmadeke | Aug 4, 2008 |
The main setting of Paula Nangle’s The Leper Compound is Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Each chapter of the novel gives us a snippet in the life of Colleen, a white woman who grew up during the final years of white rule in Rhodesia. Throughout the book Colleen is an outsider who yearns to belong.

There is an understated poetic quality to Nangle’s writing that is appealing, yet she writes in the style of a detached observer. As a reader, it was disconcerting for me to read an entire book focusing on one character and to have no feeling at all for that character by the end of the book. The history of Apartheid plays an important role in the novel, and many of the references made by Nangle were confusing to someone with limited background knowledge. Of course, I could have researched the topic in order to have better understood. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t invested enough in Colleen or her life to bother. I expected to like this book, but it just didn’t resonate for me. ( )
  JGoto | Jul 25, 2008 |
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.

http://chikune.com/blog/?p=144 ( )
  littlebookworm | Jul 20, 2008 |
For me, the sign of a great book is that it not only entertains, but it also challenges and teaches me. This in turn changes me just a bit. The Leper Compound does this beautifully. This is a fictional story of Colleen, a white girl, growing up in South Africa in the eighties during severe political unrest. Her father is a coffee farmer who has been widowed and left with two young daughters. We learn Colleen’s mother died when she was seven and her younger sister is slowly losing her mind.



The story progresses from the time right after the mother dies through Colleen’s teenage years, her time as a nurse, her marriage, and the birth of her son. This is a short book with just 192 pages, but there is an abundance of wealth in those pages, from the gorgeous writing, to the painful coming of age story of Colleen.



The author of the book lived in Africa with her missionary parents growing up, and is currently a psychiatric nurse. My hope is that she can retire and spend all her time writing, because she truly has a gift and I will be first in line to read more. ( )
  nktk | May 23, 2008 |
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"The Leper Compound will . . . remain with the reader long after the book has been closed."--Stuart Dybek, author ofI Sailed with Magellan For Colleen, motherless at seven, isolated from her schizophrenic younger sister, illness unleashes the uncanny and essential of human identity. Growing into womanhood in Rhodesia's final conflict-ridden years, she transgresses social, racial, and political boundaries in her search for connection. This masterly novel is a searing evocation of late-twentieth-century African life. Paula Nangle was raised by missionaries in the United States and southern Africa and now lives in Benton Harbor, Michigan. This is her first novel.

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