4 out of 4 stars
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I am quite sure I have never met a cult member. At least, I was until I read The Cult Next Door: A Manhattan Memoir by Elizabeth R. Burchard and Judith L. Carlone. Now I don't know anymore.
The book is an autobiography, Elizabeth writes about her journey from being a confused teenager into an abused cult member. Early in life, she lost her loving father and grew up with a cold and distant mother. Her mother was very open to all kinds of new-age treatments and creative approaches to sort issues. She takes her daughter, Elizabeth, with her to a series of therapists, and one day they meet with George for a biofeedback session. George has a unique approach to finding strength and happiness. He manages to engage Elizabeth and many others to pay for both private and group sessions with him, multiple times a week, to be humiliated and abused. This abuse is needed to find the Energy. Once you possess the Energy, all will be well. Despite noticing that his words and actions were sometimes contradictory and only served himself, Elizabeth felt she had to continue seeing him for survival.
When she met Judith, she slowly started believing in herself again. Judith was patient, loving, and caring, all the while supporting Elizabeth to get away from George and his destructive group sessions.
This book opened a whole new world for me. Previously, I thought cult members would live together, separate from society, and do their own thing. One would recognize them. Elizabeth's memoir taught me that this is not always the case. She was a functioning member of the community, a bright student getting her degree, a young professional setting up her own business. Passers-by would perhaps notice a tired, struggling businesswoman, but I doubt anyone could guess what was going on in her life.
Elizabeth shares her story in this book, not shying away from awkward details and painful memories. I felt for her and wanted to get to the part where she gets away from George's influence. I cheered in my head when she met Judith. It is a definite plus for the book that Judith shares her story as well, so the reader can see both viewpoints.
There is nothing I dislike about the way the authors wrote this memoir. There were a few small typos, but nothing that impacted the reading experience. I give this book 4 out of 4 stars. Given some of the horrible experiences Elizabeth described, including sexual ones, I recommend this book to a mature audience.
The Cult Next Door
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