Any book geek will know well the virtues that reading a good book can bring the reader, whether they seek escapism, excitement or something else, books are wonderful ways to broaden the mind. The same is also true of the act of writing, whether creating a fantastical world or bringing characters to life. Sometimes however, the written word can bring the reader or writer closer to their own vulnerability and pain, their own soft centre that is rarely breached by the mundanity of everyday life. Children of God is one such book, a book that takes the reader into the thoughts and emotional states of some cult members, people who turned to the written word as a way to come to terms with the ordeal they went through, when the end of the world didn’t come, and events took a brutal turn.
Title: Children of God
Author: Craig Dilouie and Jonathan Moon
Publisher: ZING Communications, Inc. and Jonathan Moon
Published: May 18, 2016
RRP: $9.95 (paperback), $2.99 (Kindle eBook).
For three long years, the Family of God awaited the end of the world in a California desert. In 2008, the cult destroyed itself in mass suicide and final massacre. Plagued by guilt and PTSD, the survivors couldn’t talk about their experience until a psychiatrist treated them with poetry therapy.
Ranging in form from haiku to sonnets, this collection is their stories in verse, expressing hope, love, faith, regret, and pain. In these apocalyptic dreams, the survivors find their voice and finally tell why they joined the cult, what they hoped to achieve, how they failed, and the night of the massacre.
After reading the book blurb above, you will likely already know if this is the kind of book for you. As you can imagine, it contains some pretty horrendous imagery and concepts that most definitely won’t be for everyone. I came to it myself from the angle of someone who knows well the benefits of turning burdensome thoughts into words on a page or screen, and after reading the same blurb, I found myself genuinely interested in hearing what the survivors of such a cult had to say, and the ways that they might say it.
The book begins with some background info, starting with the definition of a “cult”, the ways in which a typical cult might operate, and moving on to the particulars of what happened at the Christian doomsday cult Family of God. These first few pages do a very good job of helping the reader approach the guts of the book (the poetry etc.) in a frame of mind that is informed rather than simply assumptive or judgemental. Even if the reader is already quite familiar with cults and their machinations, this brief refresher serves as a handy lens through which to view the emotive words that follow. It also explains how poetry therapy was used with those survivors that were willing to receive it.
The contributors to the book are listed just before we get to the poems, their church names being given (rather than their real ones) and a brief description of who they were and what brought them to the cult. There is a broad spectrum of life experience listed on this page, from people who were very young at the time, to a prostitute, a student, and a senior citizen. I found myself referring to this page on more than one occasion as I read through the poems, trying to set the words in the frame of the person who had written them. Again, a very useful part of the book.
Then we move on to the poetry. Each segment of the book passes through the narrative of events that befell the members of the cult, culminating in the mass-suicide and its aftermath. The poetry takes a number of forms, as explained in the blurb, from haiku to sonnets, each poem expressing an impression of what the writer went through, their hopes, fears and thoughts as things began to unfold around them. It gives a very human voice to the feelings of people who waited for a god that didn’t show, for the end of the world that didn’t come, many of whom suffered feelings of rejection and “something missing” before they even found their way to the cult. Seeing individual reactions to the brutality that began to emerge as the time-frame moves on proved to be quite visceral, and by the end of the book, I was left feeling that I might know a little bit more about the emotional state that the survivors found themselves in.
Children of God is an emotive look at the inner-workings of people who have come through a traumatic event, one that is expressed in their own words and feelings. As a consequence, it doesn’t make for pleasant reading, but once you come out on the other side of the last page, you will almost certainly have felt moved by at least one poem inside, whatever your religious beliefs, or lack thereof.
Children of God book-cover image © Copyright ZING Communications, Inc.
Reviewer: Casey Douglass