2 out of 4 stars
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Charlie, by Elton Justice, is a truly harrowing read. The author tells his story of immense psychological abuse and a war on drugs so brutal that it makes you shiver. While the author conceals real names and does not name any country directly, it is rather obvious who the shoe is meant to fit. While remaining a reasonably short book, it has a certain gravitas to it.
The author writes about his experiences in a country in the Far East. He talks about a systemic effort by the government to break specifically targeted drug users and thereby create a narrative of the extremely detrimental effects that drug use can have. He goes even further and accuses the government of covert assassination attempts and severe psychological abuse over the period of years of not just himself, but his boyfriend and many other targets. The book also states that the drug culture is pervasive in this country and the government supplies the drugs in some cases. The stories and the examples of the abuse he faced are truly horrifying to read about. Moreover, the author spares no details in painting vivid images of his experiences. The book is titled after the author’s beagle, which he states was poisoned by his tormentors.
The greatest strength of the book is the quality of the descriptions, with an attention to detail that would be hard to fake. In addition, the sincerity and the pain of the author really jump out at you, especially when he talks about his dog and his boyfriend. The simple, direct writing style and its sincerity manage to make an unimaginable pain into something that the reader can understand and empathise with. However, the truly amazing part of the story is not in the stories of pain, but in the love and kindness that the author also experienced, sometimes from virtual strangers.
For all of its strengths, the book, unfortunately, has quite a few weaknesses. Most of these are issues with editing that make the book harder to read and less interesting. First of all, the sentences are far too long and convoluted. For example, one of the sentences in the initial section reads “And they can all rest well knowing the fact and watching over me, as, despite all the odds, and everything that was thrown at me to destroy me, and to stop me making this story public knowledge, I have finally managed to hold enough structure in my life and weather the storm, to bring this true story to the attention of the world.” Making the reader forget the beginning of the sentence by the end of it is hardly ideal. The second and more serious issue concerns the repetitious nature of the imagery. While it is understandable that the author likens his life in pain to being in hell, he does it far too often and in the same words. This is also true for other descriptions, like his description of his tormentors. Hyperbole can be a powerful tool in an author’s toolbox, but only when used in moderation. These, along with the grammatical errors in the book, made it harder to read and need to be fixed.
Apart from the issues with editing, the other major issue I had was with the veracity of the account. The author repeatedly claims that he knows some shocking piece of information beyond a shadow of a doubt. His reason for the same is his claim that he was told the same by unnamed people he befriended. Now it is not necessarily the reader’s job to decide on the truth or falsity of the work, but I think the author would be better served by a different approach. Either he should tell his story and leave out any question of evidence, or he should ensure that his evidence is airtight. The middle road that he has taken only makes the author seem defensive. The vehement assertion of complete honesty without adequate evidence reminded me of a particularly poignant line from Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. Again, this is more a matter of delivery than anything else and can be fixed.
In conclusion, this is potentially an excellent book that falls short in terms of editing and proof-reading. I would recommend this book to people who like autobiographies. However, if you are easily put off by descriptions of suffering, then you might want to give this one a pass. I rate this book only 2 out of 4 stars because of the issues in implementation.
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