The Second Life of Mirielle West
A Haunting Historical Novel Perfect for Book Clubs
Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (7/26/2021)
Based on the true story of America’s only leper colony, The Second Life of Mirielle West brings vividly to life the Louisiana institution known as Carville, where thousands of people were stripped of their civil rights, branded as lepers, and forcibly quarantined throughout the entire 20th century.
For Mirielle West, a 1920’s socialite married to a silent film star, the isolation and powerlessness of the Louisiana Leper Home is an unimaginable fall from her intoxicatingly chic life of bootlegged champagne and the star-studded parties of Hollywood’s Golden Age. When a doctor notices a pale patch of skin on her hand, she’s immediately branded a leper and carted hundreds of miles from home to Carville, taking a new name to spare her family and famous husband the shame that accompanies the disease.
At first she hopes her exile will be brief, but those sent to Carville are more prisoners than patients and their disease has no cure. Instead she must find community and purpose within its walls, struggling to redefine her self-worth while fighting an unchosen fate.
As a registered nurse, Amanda Skenandore’s medical background adds layers of detail and authenticity to the experiences of patients and medical professionals at Carville – the isolation, stigma, experimental treatments, and disparate community. A tale of repulsion, resilience, and the Roaring ‘20s, The Second Life of Mirielle West is also the story of a health crisis in America’s past, made all the more poignant by the author’s experiences during another, all-too-recent crisis.
“Scrupulous in her research and practically clairvoyant in her choice of urgent subjects — from the Indigenous boarding schools of her first novel to the disease and quarantine of The Second Life of Mirielle West — historical novelist Amanda Skenandore has quietly become one of the valley’s finest authors.” – The Las Vegas Review Journal
Kensington, 9781496726513, 384pp.
Publication Date: July 27, 2021
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. What assumptions did you have about leprosy before reading this book?
2. Patients at Carville fought for decades to promote the name Hansen’s Disease over leprosy because of its strong, negative connotation. What power, if any, does language hold in erasing stigma?
3. Who was your favorite character in the story and why?
4. Mirielle begins the novel a broken, selfish woman. But through her experiences at Carville, she is able to grow and heal. Are there instances in your own life that may have been unwelcome but forced you nonetheless to change or grow?
5. How is Mirielle’s approach to motherhood different at the beginning of the story than at the end? How does her approach compare to modern views of motherhood?
6. When Elena’s infant is whisked away to the orphanage, Sister Verena tells Mirielle it’s for the infant’s own good. Do you agree?
7. The title of the novel implies something akin to a death, followed by a rebirth for Mirielle. What moment would you identify as her death? At what point did her new life begin? Was it a gradual process or an immediate change?
8. Frank believes that hope is as essential as medicine in surviving their disease. How big of a part does hope play in a struggle, particularly a struggle for survival?
9. For half a century, patients at Carville lived without the right to vote or marry or leave the confines of the hospital. Which of your freedoms would you most hate to give up?
10. In the aftermath of Carville and the tragic quarantining of Hansen’s Disease patients, society continues to grapple with pandemic infectious disease (think of HIV and COVID-19). In what ways have we as a society progressed in dealing with these diseases? In what ways have we remained stagnant? Does stigma still play a role?