Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Review: Triumph

by Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer

I thought I’d break things up again with a review that’s not science fiction or fantasy.  In fact, it’s not even fiction.

Triumph is Carolyn Jessop’s second memoir.  The first, NYT Bestseller Escape, chronicled her life as a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, the largest polygamist sect of Mormonism.  Jessop was born into the cult as a sixth generation member.  She married at 18 a much older man with three other wives, and two more wives soon followed.  She had eight children in seventeen years, and then left the cult in the dead of night with all eight children.  She is the only woman known to have escaped with all her children, and she is the only one to have won full custody of them after she left.  Escape not only chronicles Jessop’s own life, but also examines some of the beliefs and the culture of the FLDS.  Upon the publishing of her first memoir, Jessop became one of the media’s go to people when they wanted to learn something about the FLDS.  This means that when the state of Texas raided an FLDS ranch near Eldorado on suspicion of child abuse, Jessop was one of the people they called to try and understand what they just walked into.

This is where Triumph picks up: with the raid.  The first half of the book chronicles the events that took place, from the phone call to CPS to late 2009.  Jessop specifically talks about the challenges Texas faced in putting an additional four hundred children into its foster care system, as well as how the case eventually broke down, but how it has also lead to several criminal cases against several FLDS men.  She examines the media circus surrounding the incident with a unique eye: she is someone who is now outside the cult, but who knows all of the major players within the cult.  In fact, it is her ex-husband who is running the Yearning for Zion Ranch, and nearly everyone living at the ranch is in some way related to him.  Jessop knows how the powerful adults all connect to each other, and shows how the cult used the public’s ignorance of them in their favor.

The second half of the book answers questions Jessop received after the publishing of Escape dealing with how she was able to mentally extract herself from such an abusive situation.  Each chapter is a different piece of the puzzle, ranging from random acts of kindness from non-FLDS members to working out at a Curves gym.  Most importantly, she presents her information in a way that can be useful to other people living in abusive relationships.  Most of her techniques can be applied to other situations, which is important because her situation was truly bizarre.

Jessop ends the book by catching us up on her own life from 2007 to 2009, back tracking a bit to flesh out the information she gave in Escape about her initial problems after she escaped the cult.  She talks about taking her ex husband to court for child support, as well as touching base on each of her children and how they are doing six years after leaving the FLDS.

Overall, this is an excellent book.  While it is biased, it does provide a look into the FLDS that I was frustrated with not finding while the raid in Texas was playing out in the media.  However, if you’re interested in more detailed information about the cult, pick up Escape and start there.  The second half of the book dealing with how to pull yourself out of an abusive situation can stand on its own, but as many of the examples come from Jessop’s own life, a full understanding of those examples can be gained by reading Escape as well.

One of my early frustrations in reading Escape was that in 2007 there were very few books on the FLDS cult at that time.  The only other one I could find was Lost Boy by Brent Jeffs, whose family was forced out of the cult when he was a teenager.   After the raid in Texas and the media attention it generated, more books about the FLDS have been published, and they’ve also gotten a bit more marketing.  They include Church of Lies by Flora Jessop, When Men Become Gods: Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and the Women Who Fought Back by Stephen Singular, and Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Break Free of Warren Jeffs by Elissa Wall.  I do intend to read these in the future.  There are also several other books looking at different polygamist groups in the United States other than the FLDS.

Triumph is available in hardback and e-book editions.  Escape is available in paberback, audio book, and e-book editions.


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