4 out of 4 stars
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The Cult Next Door: A Manhattan Memoir written by Elizabeth R. Burchard and Judith L. Carlone, is a heart-breaking but well-written book. The memoir details how an educated, Elizabeth Burchard ends up in a cult. At a young age Elizabeth’s father dies and is she left with her, uncaring mother Rachael. Growing up Elizabeth is forced to go along with each new feel-good fad her mother chases. Despite being a bright child, Elizabeth’s struggles with feeling lost and alone in her teenage years.
By a cruel twist of fate Rachael and Elizabeth meet an odd biofeedback technician. Dr. Keith Rogers is a stress reduction specialist and he was unaware of what nefarious plans George Sharkman, his technician, has. Elizabeth experiences more tragedy in her life and clings on to George to reduce stress in her life. After Dr. Rogers finds out George has been inappropriate with clients, he’s fired. Rachael, Elizabeth, and other women fall prey to George’s schemes. One day, Elizabeth wakes up and is no longer George’s spell. Her new friend Judith is determined to help her leave. But is it too late for her to escape the Group?
What I liked most about this book was how open and vulnerable Elizabeth was while retelling her experiences. It takes a brave person to admit they have been deceived and she admits how wrong it was to mindlessly take orders from a sinister leader. Many of us like to think we would never be tricked by a cult leader. But a few of us have found ourselves in an abusive relationship or manipulated by so called “friends”. Elizabeth’s courageous honesty gives insight into how anyone can be manipulated in small or large ways.
What I disliked most about the book was that George was an actual person and some of the Group members never woke up from his spell. You read the memoir through Elizabeth’s lens of hindsight and you want to shake her mother, Rachael. I was mentally yelling at Rachael, not to introduce her teenage daughter to George. George promised his followers eternal life and praised their compliance. Elizabeth was so desperate for love she followed his every command but felt conflicted. If George felt any resistance from Elizabeth he would become verbally and physically abusive. By the time I got halfway through the book I absolutely hated George, and the followers who didn’t mind participating in abusive actions.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. Elizabeth’s recounting of events is vivid and raw. It was difficult to put down the book because I was curious to see what would happen next. I could sense the feelings of remorse on every page and I was weeping by the end of the book. Judith co-writes with Elizabeth and describes how she knew Elizabeth needed help. Judith could’ve walked away since she hardly knew her. She could sense how lost Elizabeth felt, and Judith knew she needed loving guidance to become independent. It was admirable how much effort Judith put into helping Elizabeth, and they become lifelong friends.
I would recommend this book to people who are interested in the human behavior and the reasons why people join cults. Also, I would recommend this book to social workers; they may never come across cult members, but they will work with people in abusive relationships. This book gives insight into why ordinary people get sucked into an abusive relationship. Finally, I would recommend this book to people who got out of a cult or people who have family and/or friends in a cult. I don’t recommend this book to PTSD survivors of sexual and physical abuse. There is sexual abuse, profane language, lots of physical and emotional abuse that could be triggering.
Overall this is a great book. It’s well-written and well edited. There are resources in the back of the book for cult survivors and loved ones. There are also guided questions if you choose to reflect more on Elizabeth’s experiences. And lastly, you will admire the strength in Elizabeth and Judith.
The Cult Next Door
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