New Book: Tiphanie Yanique’s How to Escape from a Leper Colony

Tiphanie Yanique’s How to Escape from a Leper Colony: A Novella and Stories is “an enthralling debut collection from a singular Caribbean voice.” For the most part, the stories (and novella) are set on the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean islands, and the United Kingdom. Comparing her to Gabriel García Márquez, Edwidge Danticat, and Maryse Condé, the publisher’s descriptions states, “Part oral history, part postcolonial narrative, How to Escape from a Leper Colony is ultimately a loving portrait of a wholly unique place. [. . .] Tiphanie Yanique has crafted a book that is heartbreaking, hilarious, magical, and mesmerizing.

The American Short Fiction blog has this to say about the collection:

In one set of linked short shorts, “The Bridge Stories,” a bridge between the islands falls, and does so each time the story is retold. The bridge collapses from grief, from love, from bearing too much weight. The characters in these stories are breaking taboos, crossing over; their actions dangerous and suspect. In the title story, a girl and a boy on an island leper colony, a place run by nuns, sneak away into the forest and build an altar to the goddess Kali. Their gesture, and their desire for independence, to worship and live how they want, sets in motion the destruction and evacuation of the island.

Throughout this collection, Yanique explores how “subjects” react to, adapt to, cast off colonial systems. (It is a leper colony, after all, complete with a ruling class of nuns.) Her postcolonial narratives are nuanced and smart and bold; her eye is both critical and humane. The story “Canoe Sickness” explores the paralysis a young man from Ghana feels in London. It descends upon him like an illness and remains in his bloodstream, so to speak, capable of flaring up again at any moment. At the end of “How to Escape from a Leper Colony,” the nuns leap into the sea, and the lepers follow right behind. This is a moment of release and discovery: the lepers’ bandages come off in the water, and the dark protective salve that the nuns wear runs off their faces (revealing them to be of every race). A new power system is forged: the nuns and lepers swim together—some of the nuns clinging to lepers. “I swam in the soup with everyone,” the narrator says. “We took only ourselves.”

Originally from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Tiphanie Yanique is an assistant professor of creative writing and Caribbean Literature at Drew University. She has won the Boston Review Prize in Fiction, a Pushcart Prize, a Fulbright in Creative Writing, the Mary Grant Charles Award for Fiction, the Tufts University Africana Prize for Creativity, and an Academy of American Poet’s Prize. Her work has also appeared in Callaloo, Transition Magazine, American Short Fiction, and the London Magazine. The Boston Globe listed her as one of sixteen cultural figures to watch out for in 2010. 

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For more information on the author, see,, and

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