Carville’s Cure: Leprosy, Stigma, and the Fight for Justice

Liveright: Norton. Jul. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9781631495038. $28.95. SOC SCI
NPR commentator Fessler’s father-in-law’s father contracted Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) as a soldier in the Philippines at the end of the Spanish-American War. He returned to New York to start his own business, marry, and raise a family, but eventually the slow-growing disease attacked his nerves, making his fingers and feet numb, and robbed his eyesight. Finally, after consulting a doctor, he, like many others living with Hansen’s Disease, was taken away from his home by public officials, isolated, and brought to the leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana, at one time the only leprosarium in the continental U.S. Here, Fessler tells “the story of the thousands of patients, families, and caregivers in the U.S. who struggled against one of the world’s most dreaded and misunderstood diseases.” In 2004, Marcia Gaudet published Carville, but Fessler had access to more research and archives, making the residents, and their doctors and the Daughters of Charity nuns who cared for them, come alive in this telling. The treatment of those living with Hansen’s Disease has had a quiet and shameful history, but Fessler allows for people’s voices to be heard in their own words.
VERDICT A heart-wrenching story of little-known social history.

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