Paula Nangle’s debut novel, The Leper Compound, is a book I won’t soon forget. I’m tempted to call it a novel-in-stories as each chapter is perfectly self-contained and yet the whole does provide one full narrative. Regardless, it is a brilliant effort.
The book starts out with Colleen as a motherless child ill with Malaria and ends with the death of her father and with her mentally ill sister (schizophrenia since childhood) finally finding a mother in their father’s new wife. Throughout, Colleen struggles with her sense of identity and her desire to make sense of life and death–she is a lover, a nurse, a mother–and through it all, an outsider.
All of this could take place anywhere at any time, but it does not: it takes place in the waning years of Rhodesia. A fascinating back drop lending the book political and social overtones and adding to its richness (especially poignant with Zimbabwe so present in the news these days).
I cannot quote from the book as the copy I have is an ARC, but I can tell you this: Nangle can write. In fact, she writes beautifully–her words are moving and yet never overdone. It would have been easy for her to be melodramatic with her subject matter. Instead, she opts for clean, precise language.
I hope to read more from her and I hope that you will look for this book and read it and allow it to move you in the way it has moved me.