How to Escape from a Leper Colony

Tiphanie Yanique

Graywolf Press, 2010

Agent: Elise Capron

An enthralling debut collection from a singular Caribbean voice

For a leper, many things are impossible, and many other things are easily done. Babalao Chuck said he could fly to the other side of the island and peek at the nuns bathing. And when a man with no hands claims that he can fly, you listen.

The inhabitants of an island walk into the sea. A man passes a jail cell's window, shouldering a wooden cross. And in the international shop of coffins, a story repeats itself, pointing toward an inevitable tragedy. If the facts of these stories are sometimes fantastical, the situations they describe are complex and all too real.

Lyrical, lush, and haunting, the prose shimmers in this nuanced debut, set mostly in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Part oral history, part postcolonial narrative, How to Escape from a Leper Colony is ultimately a loving portrait of a wholly unique place. Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Edwidge Danticat, and Maryse Conde before her, Tiphanie Yanique has crafted a book that is heartbreaking, hilarious, magical, and mesmerizing. An unforgettable collection. 

"This first book of short fiction by a young writer from St Thomas introduces a lyrical, enticing new voice. Yanique’s narrative playfulness encompasses social realism, historical romance, and richly imagined allegorical fantasy."
Caribbean Review of Books
"… the writer gives voice to an island itself… stories stole my affection…"
—Alan Cheuse for All Things Considered (NPR)

“Tiphanie Yanique’s ravishing and bold first collection, set mostly in the Caribbean, invokes a chorus of distinctive voices and keeps up a narrative pace so intriguing and suspenseful you listen eagerly for the next unfolding of the tale. … Yanique’s storytelling virtuosity is at its peak in the longer stories in which she fluidly juggles multiple viewpoints.”
— Jane Ciabattari for The Daily Beast

“Tiphanie Yanique captures single moments from a variety of perspectives that illuminate those instants in surprising ways. […] Yanique’s skill lies in taking quick glimpses of people and situations and progressively deepening the relief in which they are portrayed. The procedure also allows Yanique to escape the exoticism of some of her setups […] by showing how the same object or conversation can resound in many different ways and in many different minds: the observer, rather than the observed, becomes the central motif.”

"To wrap your mind around life on an island, you need to understand insularity, restlessness, the way it feels to have a fluid sense of identity. All this and more is what you get from Tiphanie Yanique's haunting and vibrant debut fiction collection."
O, The Oprah Magazine

"The effects of colonialism throb in Yanique’s vivid debut collection…“The Bridge Stories” are elucidating snapshots of islanders struggling to carve out lives for themselves on St. Thomas and elsewhere amid an exploitative tourist economy. Yanique frequently dips into rich, fanciful vernacular, such as in “Street Man,” a beautiful, sad glimpse at a doomed love affair between a college student and a St. Croix local. In the affecting novella, “International Shop of Coffins,” Yanique depicts characters of mixed African/Creole/Indian descent torn between the white and island worlds in all their complexity and conflictedness. A smattering of dark humor leavens the tense narratives as Yanique penetrates the perils and pleasures of lives lived outside resort walls."
Publishers Weekly