Review of The Second Life of Murielle West

An enlightening story about a time in history most know little about

Historical fiction is my favorite genre. I enjoy a plethora of genres such as chick-lit, women’s fiction, suspense, non-fiction, dystopian-future fiction, and more. But again, historical fiction is my favorite, especially when there is a romantic element to it.

painting of people near outdoor during daytime

I’m especially interested in historical fiction and non-fiction centered around something I know little about or know nothing about. This book is one of those instances.

Did you, for example, know leprosy was active in the world long after the incidents mentioned in the Bible? Or that it was active here in the United States as recently as the early 1930s before a cure was found? It’s still around, but with vaccines and treatments, we’ve got a handle on the disease.

I was both disturbed and fascinated while reading about what people who contracted leprosy endured in the early 1900s, right here in the United States, beyond the physical horrors of their affliction.

As humans too often do, we panicked over a disease we had no full understanding of, thus treating the afflicted abominably. They were quickly set apart from society and ripped away from family. Age made no difference. Even small children were torn from their families and placed in quarantine camps, or more accurately, a prison facility for those with leprosy.

a boy crying tears for his loss

If you were around when the Aids epidemic happened, you saw firsthand how society reacts to diseases or viruses we don’t fully understand. Fear leads to terrible behavior. Rumor exacerbates that behavior.

While fear is an understandable reaction to a disease as dangerous and deadly as something like Aids and leprosy, what horrifies me is how people treat the afflicted. Not only strangers, but friends and family members. To ban a loved one from your life or exile them to a faraway place when they’re already frightened is beyond sad.

This book takes us through the journey a fictional character experienced when she found herself being first suspected of having contracted leprosy, then what she encountered after the suspicion was confirmed. A journey not unlike what real people of the time endured.

Murielle west began as a depressed and spoiled, rich, mother and housewife of a silent-movie star. She found temporary solace in alcohol, but the damage that it did to her marriage and mothering abilities becomes clear after she’s torn from her young family due to her leprosy diagnosis.

As her story unfolds further, we gain an understanding of why she’s having such a hard time existing, and her reason for such deep sorrow. We begin to feel her experience right along with her as it unfolds one day at a time.

The Second Life of Murielle West is beautifully and skillfully written and well-paced while exposing a fascinating piece of history most of us are unaware of.

I recommend this book without pause.

The Second Life of Mirielle West

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