Tag Archives: Leprosy

Review & Giveaway: The Rainwater Secret by Monica Shaw

Monica Shaw
Genre: Historical Fiction / Medical Missionaries
Publisher: Self-Published
Date of Publication: March 31, 2017
Number of Pages: 354

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The Rainwater Secret is a deeply moving, historical fiction novel about a woman who travels

to Africa to teach the leper children who were banished from their villages. Single and feeling there is nothing left for her in small-town England, Anna embarks on an adventure as a volunteer teacher with the Medical Missionaries of Mary. Life as Anna has known it is forever changed as she learns the culture that would banish its sick, disfigured, and crippled to the bush. Babies are left to die on roadsides, children are chased away to live by whatever means they can find. The aged are abandoned.

Anna’s daily life is an adventure as she travels from one village to another across a hostile land with few passable roads, rickety bridges threatening to fall apart and casting occupants on the jagged rocks far below, and weather that turns a calm river into a roiling death trap. In spite of the trials, Anna also manages to find love and family in this godforsaken land.

Follow this adventure through disease, weather, strife, death, and determination to turn a few acres of land into a loving home for the outcast lepers of Nigeria.

While I can see this book appealing to the Eat, Pray, Love set, The Rainwater Secret spoke to me on a deeper, maybe even primal level. That might seem strange since the main character, Anna, journeys to the wilds of Africa with Catholic missionaries, and I should probably be affected on some spiritual level. But to be honest, the theme of survival that runs throughout the novel didn’t bring up many Biblical allusions to me. Although now that I write that broad statement, I can think of some stories in the Bible that could parallel with the trials faced by the Medical Missionaries of Mary and the people in the leprosy settlement in general.


But as I was immersed in the story, those connections were not established. That could actually be good news for readers who avoid Christian books. This book does not force religion or the author’s beliefs on you. It actually shows that even the most pious person can be flawed and that humanity stems from being human, not necessarily one’s faith.


I felt a fierce protectiveness over Anna, a woman of almost thirty who seemed to do everything right but received the short end of the stick. I loved that she never pitied herself or her situation – although I wonder if that could partially be due to her best friend’s disability as a byproduct of warfare. And as war had ruined much of her future prospects, I couldn’t help but admire her drive to run to a place on the verge of its own civil war.


Some might look at Anna’s actions and think she was just outrunning heartbreak or perhaps that she was just some privileged white woman who wanted to help the poor in order to feel better about herself, but really think about the time period and where she is going. No one with an ounce of selfishness would volunteer to work among lepers in Africa. These people are the untouchables, literally. The disease is so feared that villages cast out even infants in an attempt to stop the spread. But even before she sets her eyes on the horrific living conditions of the outcasts, Anna could have gone back home when she realized just halfway to her destination how harsh the environment was and how dangerous it was to be a white woman in the bush.


Shaw writes in such a way that I forgot this was fiction. I could feel the grit in my mouth as the characters ate food during dry, windy days and grimaced as the nurses injected the patches of leprosy patients with dull needles. When I found out that Shaw based this novel on the life of her aunt and her own personal research, I was not surprised. She writes with an intimacy that goes beyond dreaming up a character and a story, and makes the reader emotionally invested. When I reached the end, I was satisfied but I would have loved to live those 20 years in Africa with Anna. Without the usual gloss of romanticizing the great unknown or softening the blow of loss and destruction, Shaw gives us an honest portrayal of missionary work in the 1940s.


Monica Shaw is a native of Dallas, Texas where she has been a successful entrepreneur. She attended St. Thomas Aquinas, graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School, and earned her Geology / Petroleum Engineering degree from UT Austin. Her debut novel, The Rainwater Secret, started off as a personal research project looking into the life of her great aunt who became a missionary teacher. Monica is married with 3 children.

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APRIL 23-May 3, 2019


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