3 out of 4 stars
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Most people believe that members of cults are idiots, deranged, unstable, nutty-as-a-fruitcake, odd, or weak-minded individuals who live in secluded complexes elsewhere and wear weird clothing. These myths are far from the truth. Remarkably, members of cults are extremely bright, well-balanced, flexible and often optimistic people and although some cults live in unconventional ways, most members are ordinary citizens living among us. The Cult Next Door: A Manhattan Memoir by Elizabeth R. Burchard and Judith L. Carlone is a mind-blowing story of how a young girl got roped in a fanatical cult and her years of struggle for freedom.
In this true story, Burchard narrates her years of manipulation, brainwashing, and betrayal by the mesmerizing guru George Sharkman. First introduced to him by her mother as a biofeedback therapist, Elizabeth, and many others are searching for comprehension and guidance in life. Professing truth about the world and the existence of life, Sharkman knows just what to say to lure members to "The Group." This book is an eye-opener for people who can’t comprehend how easy it is to fall victim to manipulation if the perfect condition arises.
The Cult Next Door is a disheartening, inspirational, and gripping story narrated in the first-person point of view from Elizabeth and her friend, Judith Carlone. The story is broken into two sections. In the first half, Elizabeth presents a riveting and brutally honest perception of cults, the emotional and mental manipulation into the cult, and everything that it encompasses. The author could have easily written this book as a self-pity story, reciting endlessly how imprisoned Sharkman made her feel. However, I applaud the author on narrating the story from the viewpoint of her thought processing and feelings in situations.
The second half of the book, the disentanglement and healing process after decades of mind control, from an outside glimpse of the co-author, gives a clever association to the story. Twenty years, a chance encounter, and the support and guidance of a friend lead to Elizabeth’s escape from Sharkman and “The Group.” Cleverly written, this book shifts among the expressions of the author and co-author, giving it an intriguing observation of identical situations from two different viewpoints.
I enjoyed reading this book. Elizabeth’s simplistic nature drew me to her personality. The writing style made it easy to relate to the characters. I saluted her triumphs and experienced the core of her defeats. The easy read fast pace and continuous flow of the storyline created a captivating, page-turner that I would recommend to those partial to true stories and interested in the inner workings of a cult. An added bonus to this book is the discussion questions located at the end.
The Cult Next Door is a good book to read. I found only a few grammar errors and typos but it did not affect the rating. I gave this book 3 out of 4 stars. I deducted one star for two reasons. First, although the story spans over 30 years, it seemed like the complete story lasted only one year from the living room of Starkman’s home. Second, is the ending. The pace of the book at the end slowed almost to a stop. The dialogue dragged on without context. However, I think readers will enjoy this book.
The Cult Next Door
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