Not Without My Sister is written by three sisters – Kristina, Celeste and Juliana – who grew up in the religious cult known at the time as ‘The Children of God’.
Whilst I knew religious/extremist cults existed, especially in the ‘hippie’ era of free sex, drugs and experimentation, I must say that I really didn’t expect the truth to be on the scale it was. I also wasn’t around when The Children of God gained media attention in the UK and underwent court cases, so had no idea about this book or the cult itself before my Nan gave me this book. I must warn you – this is a very difficult book to read. Not because of pace, or the vocabulary or any other literary factors, but purely because of the content.
Without going into too much detail, the three girls were born into the cult, so knew no other way of life. They were subject to experiments throughout their upbringing – not scientific experiments, but experimentation in discipline and upbringing. The cult members are, essentially, brainwashed into believing their leader, David Berg, is a prophet, and his prophecies were the word of God, which they must follow. When these prophecies involve harsh beatings, incest, adult/child sex etc, you can only imagine the outcome to be devastating for the children living in this cult.
At times, I cried whilst reading this book. I got angry. I was confused. I felt nearly every emotion I could think of. How could so many children be subject to such extreme abuse? How did these people live with themselves after what they’ve done and how did we, a developed, politically correct country not intervene and put an end to the suffering? How is the organisation STILL operating?! I had to close the book many a times and allow myself to breathe and not dwell in this rage and gloom.
The book has left me wanting to learn more. More about The Children of God, or The Family International as they are now known, as well as more about this extreme cult behaviour. I just cannot get my head around how so many tens of thousands of people can be brainwashed into believing such ludicrous things, and living their lives how they do in this book.
On a literary level, the book is written very well – everything is explained thoroughly, and the book is paced perfectly. The only slight negative I have, is towards the end, as the girls (well, I should now say young women really!) age, their stories get more difficult to follow. As each chapter jumps between the girls, I started getting confused as to who was who. It doesn’t help that the three girls have very hectic lives – constantly travelling and moving all over the world. I would have to take a couple of seconds at the beginning of each chapter and think ‘right, this chapter is Juliana, where did we leave off with her? Where in the world is she right now?’.
Overall, whilst it is difficult for me to brand this book as ‘enjoyable’ due to the content, I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in psychology, sociology, religion, cults, extremism and such like. Please just be aware that the book is VERY graphic and detailed in terms of the physical, emotional and sexual abuse the girls encounter as young children – read the book with caution, and maybe don’t read it on the train like I did, else you have to spend a lot of time doing deep breathing exercises hoping you don’t cry on the train and look like a wally!
If you have read any similar sorts of books, or know of any further reading on this topic, please do let me know in the comments below as I am keen to read more about The Children of God from other perspectives.
If you want to check out what else I’ve been reading, why not have a look at my previous book reviews?