NY Times Bestselling Author Ruta Sepetys Confirms That the Philippines Will Play a Role in a Future Novel

Ruta Sepetys

Photo / Fully Booked

Ruta Sepetys, a New York Times bestselling historical fiction author, confirmed that the Philippines will play a role in a future novel.

At a talk hosted by Fully Booked, entitled Writing Historical Fiction With Ruta Sepetys, the author said that her visit also served as research for a story with a significant tie to the country.

“A topic that I had been researching secretly for many years was the millions of people who became prisoners of prejudice because they were diagnosed with Hansen’s Disease, which is also known as leprosy. These people were arrested and discriminated against. This is a historical stigma on such a large scale. It touched every continent and country and is so misunderstood,” Sepetys said.

The author revealed that she visited Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital (formerly called Tala Leprosarium) in Caloocan and Culion in Palawan, which served as leper colonies in the past. Today, DJNRMHS is the principal referral hospital for leprosy patients and the premier training and research center for leprosy care and management in the Philippines.

At DJNRMHS and Culion, Sepetys interviewed prior patients, their families, former priests, and even the previous medical director of Tala.


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“I have spent the last five days traveling around, and some people were okay with meeting with me, but there were some concerns with the things they were going to tell me and how it might affect their family. In the interviews I did, which were very emotional, we stopped at points. Many of them said, ‘No, I have to tell the story, I have to get this out,'” said the author.

On Instagram, Sepetys described her day at DJNRMHS as “one of the most incredible and moving research experiences of my career.”

After her Manila visit, she flew to Indonesia for another talk and more research on historical treatment methods with healers and shamans. There, she learned how the history and medical stigma had been approached throughout the past century and how injustice affected the heart and mind.

Besides the Philippines and Indonesia, Sepetys also traveled to Molokaʻi in Hawaii, Carville in Louisiana, and Chacachacare in Trinidad for her research.


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Sepetys, however, noticed something different regarding the patients in the Philippines.

“In the other places that I’ve traveled, there’s such deep resentment and anger because they’re so misunderstood, and this disease is so misunderstood. In the Philippines, the patients I’ve met with were lit from within with love. They told me that their suffering was their spiritual teacher. They were terribly sad that people discriminated against them, but the other thing was the love, care, and kindness that the patients in Tala are being treated with. There’s something different here.”

Sepetys is described as a “seeker of lost stories.” Her works have covered critical historical events, like the Soviet occupation of Lithuania (Between Shades of Gray), World War II (Salt to the Sea), the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in Spain (The Fountains of Silence), and the tyrannical rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania (I Must Betray You).

Her works have been translated into over 40 languages. They have also won awards, like the Carnegie Medal and The Josette Frank Award for Fiction.

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