3 out of 4 stars
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The Cult Next Door is a self-memoir written by Elizabeth R. Burchard and Judith L. Carlone about Liz’s life as a cult member. Is she still part of the cult or did she eventually cut ties from the group? Read the book, dear reader, to find out the answers.
Liz had already set a plan for her life. Earn a degree, develop a carrier, marry the love of her life, have three children and a dog named fletcher, and buy her white picket fence. She wanted nothing more. But what she couldn’t foresee was that her life had another plan in store for her.
God had given her a socially defiant, obnoxious mother who was borderline abusive to Liz. Her only solace and stability in her life was her dad. But when he died when Liz was just 12 years old, Liz’s life turned upside down. Her mother fell into the trap of personal development gurus and health quacks one by one and tagged Liz in her adventure. That’s how Liz walked into the hands of George Sharkman, a man with lofty ideas about humankind and a master manipulator.
Liz was awed by George’s ideas to help humans and admired him. But when her fiancée died, George became her sole source of comfort. George had indoctrinated many ideas into his follower's heads, who were puppets in his head. His motto was – “don’t trust human instincts.” He made his followers cut ties with everyone around them and trust no other human being other than him. He abused them mentally, financially, and even sexually. While his followers kept on feeding his ego, his insanity, and his bank account. Liz was part of a such group. And her life was destined to be doomed.
I always had the misconception that one can break away from a cult, as soon as they realize the truth. But this book made me realize that it’s not that easy. Liz’s life had revolved around George for over 20 years. She had concluded that; she could not function without George’s presence in her life. Her cult had become her life. Even with doubts about her cult’s teachings, she didn’t know where else to go. She felt she only belonged in that group. If someone had cut her ties with the group, she would have rebounded back in an instant like a rubber band. This book shows the time and patience a cult member has to have, to take back control of their life into their own hands. For Liz’s luck, Judy was there to provide her with unending support and love. I especially want to thank Judy for her patience through this review.
Now coming to the positive aspects, even though the book is spanned over 20 years of Liz's life, it is neatly categorized by dates and important events without breaking the flow of the story. And it seems to be well-edited with no noticeable errors. As there so few books about cultist’s life, this book has its importance. It gives a first-hand account of cults and their member's life. This book erases the misconception that cults only exist in an isolated place far away inside an impenetrable compound. This book makes one wonder with horror that, there might be a cult growing right now nearer to you than you would like to believe.
There are no major flaws in the book except Liz’s constant need to justify every action and decision to her. She also lacked the compassion, with which Judy stood in her life for her former cult’s members. She felt justified to take years to cut ties from George but she felt astonished that others still believed George as soon as she left her group. And she felt superior to others which I felt quite odd. For example, she mentions a group session where everyone else was fighting for the attention of George, wasting their time and money and felt that she was the only one who realized that it’s manipulation. I am glad she has realized the truth but what I couldn’t quite get was, why did she feel superior to others while she still was wasting her time and money in attending that group even after realizing it. I do understand Liz needed to slowly break her bond but what she forgot was that, so does others. They needed to realize the truth themselves. They also need time and support like her. I would like to believe that I misunderstood Liz’s intention not that she felt superior to her past friends. And also, importantly I still can’t imagine what would have happened if she had met someone with their malicious motives instead of Judy.
I will rate this book 3 out of 4 stars for the above-mentioned reasons. This book shows the workings of a cult and sheds light on how to identify cults or how to support someone in your life who might need help. I would not recommend this book to young people or people who are sensitive to abusive behavior. This book is not a guide on how one can break from a cult. This is a personal journey of a naïve woman who earned her freedom with determination. Liz found religion as her Strength. Others might be motivated by something else. Everyone’s story is different. But in the end, this book proves one can repair their life if they keep on trying.
The Cult Next Door
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