Review: 'How To Escape A Leper Colony'

Tiphanie Yanique, originally from the island of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, has published her first book of fiction. It's a collection of stories titled How to Escape from a Leper Colony.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The Caribbean has brought the world a rich literary gumbo. Think of the poetry of Nobel laureate Derek Walcott from St. Lucia or the prose of Juno Diaz, who's Dominican-American. Now, the island of St. Thomas gives us Tiphanie Yanique and her book of short stories, "How to Escape from a Leper Colony."

Alan Cheuse has this review.

ALAN CHEUSE: The title story immediately carried me away to a Caribbean island off the coast of Trinidad in 1939. On the island is a leper colony. One of whose inhabitants is a 14-year-old Hindu girl named Deepa, who caught the disease from her mother.

An island can be a world; that's what one of the older inhabitants explains to Deepa. This title story, in only a dozen pages, makes of this location a real world in which love and prayer, Jesus and Shiva, life and death pulse through the air like the vital forces of existence Deepa takes them to be.

Another of the shorter pieces, called "The Bridge Stories," gives us a fanciful Caribbean in which people wear little bridge symbols around their necks and actual bridges connect many of the islands to each other. Here, the writer gives voice to an island itself.

Other stories come to life in other voices, as in "Street Man," in which a gun-toting drug dealer recounts his complicated affair with a college girl from the states. And then there's the Guinean-born guy suffering from what he describes as canoe sickness, an illness that keeps him from his dream of playing professional soccer.

But these longer stories I didn't find either completely satisfying or completely whole. They each had moments: the vitality of a crowded dance floor, the intensity of the first kiss in a new love affair, but the shorter stories stole my affection and make the book worth the buying.

BLOCK: The book is "How to Escape from a Leper Colony" by Tiphanie Yanique. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University.

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