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288 pages, Hardcover
First published June 4, 2019
If not for all that had happened here, I would not have left my religion. I would certainly still be a Jehovah's Witness had I not come to this country and learned its ways. Perhaps I would have been happier. But no matter what it took to get here, to this breezy corner, or how alone I was among these 1.3 billion people, I felt ecstatic to be free, to have this life. I didn't know who to thank anymore, so I thanked the sky, the trees, the smiles, the sounds – the things I knew to be true.
I knew that my explanations of the world made more sense than anything else I had come across, if only I could find someone who had the right heart and would listen. I was as confident in my mission as a suicide bomber is of his: God would help me, and one day I would be in paradise for having done it.
In fact, it was encouraged by some of those in higher-up positions, who reminded us of a Bible principle I have since seen the Governing Body use to lie in child abuse court cases: theocratic warfare. Meaning, if being dishonest will do something to advance Jehovah's will, then it's okay to make an exception and keep one's clean conscience.
One night, when I had a particularly long-lasting case of insomnia accompanied by my usual terrors of the Armageddon I heard so much about during my visits to the Kingdom Hall, I went out to my dad in front of the TV and asked him if he might be able to spank me, since crying myself to sleep had generally worked well in the past. This was the only kind of help I knew to seek from my parents.
Witnesses were the only ones who would be allowed out of Hitler's concentration camps if they would renounce their faith. And they didn't. In China, a Jehovah's Witness missionary had been imprisoned in solitary confinement for years in the 1950s, for preaching after Mao came to power. Kids with cancer chose death rather than take a blood transfusion. My culture was one of biblical proportions: men sacrificing their own child at God's request, fathers that allowed angry crowds to rape their daughters to protect God's angels.
My apocalypse hadn't looked like I thought it would: no oceans turning to blood with every piece of clothing taken off and pushed onto the ground, no skies turning darker with each penetration of my body, no giant hailstones raining down through the roof, no vultures picking clean the bones of our violating carcasses. It had been a fevered drive on a dark highway, fast, muddled bodies, a shower smelling of unfamiliar soap, an earring left behind on a black sheet. The closest thing to the Four Horsemen was a Trojan condom wrapper on the floor.
"We as humans seem to work the hardest to avoid our biggest gift: freedom of choice."
So, this is kind of hard to review. First off, I'd like to be clear that it was really good. A very unique memoir in which I really can't find anything to fault. It covers her early life in the Jehovah's Witness world, & how she ended up in China, of all places. Then it moves into the even more engaging ways that being a secret missionary in an openly restrictive (oddly enough, not an oxymoron) country allowed her what she most needed: space.
I have notes about all the things I want to mention in relation to this book. It truly was a reading experience, & I will definitely recommend it to others. I hope I will find a way to turn my notes into some coherent, worthy review. For now though, I will just say this book, overall, is about shedding old skin, living w/ the rawness & vulnerability of a different kind of life in a world that now must approached anew, & growing the hard-won strength that comes w/ standing on one's on feet for the 1st time. The whole thing was a lesson in listening to the truth of one's own experience, & deciding for one's own self, who it is they are going to be, & then owning all that comes of those decisions. While she herself left a widely recognized cult situation, she recognizes in the end how many commonly accepted belief systems, both religious & not, utilize cult-like, proscribed thinking to keep subscribers in a numb, cottony-cloud that blocks out other ways of thought as only so much noise. She is perhaps better able than most to recognize these things about the wider society, because she was raised outside these otherwise common modalities of secular & societal beliefs. If more people could see these processes at work across all areas of our society, we'd be in a much better position to start looking at what really lies beyond them, in an objective way. In the end, it all boils down to that old maxim: question everything.
Hopefully I will come back to complete this, & make more sense when I do. For now, I recommend just reading the book. I found it to be edifying, but then, I'm no stranger to skin-shedding.