Book Review: ’3096 Days’ by Natascha Kampusch

April 3, 2014 in Best Of, Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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I find long-term abduction stories fascinating. What kind of a person could do something so cruel to another human being? What kind of human being could live through such cruelty?

A few years back I read Alan Hall’s Monster (review here), a horrific investigative study into the case of Josef Fritzl, who kept his biological daughter Elizabeth in a dungeon for 24 years as a sex slave. Earlier this year I tackled Elizabeth Smart’s My Story (review here), the account of her harrowing 9-month abduction at the hands of a deranged couple in 2002.

After reading My Story I decided first-person accounts of such stories were probably best avoided as Smart’s book underwhelmed due to her weak writing, but I decided to ignore my own advice after coming across 3,096 Days, penned by another Austrian abductee, Natascha Kampusch, who was held captive from the ages of 10 and 18. After breezing through it in a few days, I now have to backtrack from what I said about first-person accounts, because 3,096 days is not just the best abduction book out there — it’s one of the best first-person true stories and finely written autobiographies I’ve ever read.

Natascha Kampusch was an unhappy, overweight and introverted 10-year-old who was on her way to school after a fight with her mother when she was tossed in a van by Wolfgang Priklopil, a mentally ill recluse who appeared polite and “normal” to locals. She would spend the majority of the next 3,096 days in a steel-enforced dungeon in Priklopil’s house that brought back memories of Josef Fritzl’s house of horrors. She would be starved, subjected to mental and physical abuse and torture, and living in constant fear of her bi-polar captor. By the time she was escaped, at age 18, Kampusch was a shell of a person, barely 40kg (despite being 175cm) and terrified of the free world she faced for the rest of her life.

This is a remarkable book. Kampusch’s writing is nothing short of amazing, considering she lost more than 8 of the most important years of her education. On the other hand, she spent a large proportion of her time in captivity reading, writing and educating herself, so in that sense it’s not surprising that she comes across as such a seasoned writer.

Some credit must go to her co-writer Heike Gronemeier and her English translator Jill Kreuer, but there’s no doubt that the bulk of the book is entirely her own words, because only she could describe — in tender, beautiful and heartfelt prose — the complex emotions she has towards her ordeal and her abductor whom she mostly calls “the kidnapper” in the book.

In many ways I found Kampusch’s writing almost Anne Frank-esque, not just in her observations and views on life but in the way her words manage to evoke a pure emotional response. Her descriptions are dramatic yet unpretentious, piercing yet comforting. I don’t know how she does it but there were so many passages where I found myself in awe of with her ability to hit the mark.

When I read Elizabeth Smart’s My Story, I complained about my inability to connect with her psyche and how the things she said often felt like “justifications” for her seemingly bizarre behaviour (such as squandering many obvious opportunities for escape) rather than “explanations” of why someone in her position might act that way. With Kampusch, it was the opposite. Even though she was criticized just as much as, if not more than, Smart for her behaviour, I understood where she was coming from perfectly. Had I not read her book, I too might have been baffled as to how she could go out with her kidnapper in public, and even on a ski trip, without reaching out for help. But after reading about the the depths of her fear and the grip Priklopil had over her, everything made sense.

Another impressive thing about 3,096 days is Kampusch’s insights into Priklopil, from his personality and mental illness to his upbringing and unnatural relationship with his mother. You can tell that despite everything he put her through, she had a special connection with him, and how could she not when he was the only person in her life, the only person she spoke to and interacted with, for 8.5 years? I was impressed with the way she saw him as not just an evil man (the way Smart saw her abductor), but as a complex person who could show kindness and vulnerability but also had a terrifying darkness that constantly threatened to overwhelm him. As she said, children who are ill-treated and abused by their parents and guardians still love them, and I suppose that goes some way towards explaining her feelings towards Priklopil and why she wept when she found out he had thrown himself under a train after she escaped.

I was also impressed with her refusal to accept that she was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, saying the label oversimplifies the complex relationship she had with her kidnapper. You can tell she has put a lot of intelligent thought, research and effort into analysing her ordeal and her emotions in the years since she was freed. Instead of trying to forget and put those eight years of her life behind her, which would have been impossible anyway, she is doing her best to make sense of this atrocious, meaningless crime committed against her.

(By the way, I am in no way trying to demean Smart or her experience. She had a completely different type of abductor and the period of her captivity was not so long that she could develop any positive feelings towards the perpetrators. But the contrast between the approach of the two books and the way their respective stories were told is stark, probably something akin comparing this the quality of the writing in this blog to that of the New Yorker.)

The only genuine fault I can find with the book is Kampusch’s refusal to talk about her sexual abuse at the hands of Priklopil. While she admitted in interviews that she was raped several times during her ordeal, in the book she sidestepped the issue by saying that there are some parts of her capture she wished to keep private (she did say that Priklopil chained her to his bed but mostly just wanted to cuddle). You can’t blame her for not wanting to talk about something like this, but the omission does spark concerns that perhaps Kampusch could be leaving other details out as well. It’s unfortunate because she already has so many doubters, many of whom believe she is hiding something. I can only repeat what I said in the case of Elizabeth Smart, which is unless you personally experience what they’ve gone through you have no idea how you’d react in the same situation.

Ultimately, I am certain that 3,096 Days will resonate with me for quite some time. It’s a fascinating read that’s harrowing and hard to stomach at times, but I found it contemplative, empathetic and truthful — in the sense that not everything in life is black or white, good or evil. It’s a testament to Natascha Kampusch’s courage, her strength, her intelligence, and I’m glad I was fortunate enough to have come across this inspiring book.

5/5

PS: 3,096 Days has been adapted into a feature film of the same name. I’m not sure if I will watch it, but here’s the trailer anyway. There is also full documentary on Kampusch’s story on YouTube called 3,096 Days in Captivity.

Book Review: ‘Heaven is For Real’ by Lynn Vincent and Todd Burpo

March 27, 2014 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

heaven

After having read Proof of Heaven by Dr Eben Alexander last year, my spiritual journey continues with Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. This bestseller, which has a film adaptation coming to our screens soon, is written by conservative American writer Lynn Vincent and Todd Burpo, the father of Colton, the little boy who supposedly went to heaven when he was 4 years old and came back to tell everyone about it.

It’s an easy book to read, and with just 163 pages, the type you could breeze through in a sitting or two (it took me three, which is pretty impressive by my standards). The writing is solid and builds suspense in a natural and unforced manner — largely through Colton’s medical ordeal which led to the alleged out-of-body experience, then through the bits and pieces of “heaven” he reveals to his family following his return. The story is told from the point of view of Todd, who shares his astonishment as his young son begins telling him things the 4-year-old couldn’t possibly have known (or so he says), including a miscarriage that had been hidden from him and the youthful appearance of a great grandfather he had never met.

The story is sold as nothing but a miracle of Biblical proportions, and the details of it as told by the Burpo family are certainly incredible. A lot of the stuff little Colton says are goosebump-inducing stuff (we’re talking Jesus and angels and Satan and the whole shebang), but the whole thing comes across as a little too neat and a little too packaged, which is no wonder why the book has polarized readers.

You see, the one crucial  thing I’ve withheld about the book is that Todd Burpo is a pastor who decided he was going to devote his life to God from the age of 13, and his whole family seems just as passionate about the Bible as him. Accordingly, unlike Proof of Heaven, which purposely avoided references to religion and heaven in a Biblical sense, Heaven is for Real is ALL ABOUT the Bible, and how Colton’s experience “proves” that the stories and descriptions of things in the Good Book are literally real. For example, when the Bible says Jesus sits on a throne in heaven, that’s exactly what it means, according to Colton, because that’s what he saw when he was there. When the Bible says Jesus sits “on the right hand of God,” it means he literally sits on God’s right hand side in heaven (like all the time?). And of course, Colton also saw Mary there with them because the Bible says that too. These are just a few of the plethora of such examples in the book.

Christians, especially those who embrace a literal interpretation of the Bible, will love this book (and they do). It’s got a great story and an inspiring message at heart. Todd Burpo had been questioning his faith after a string of personal woes, from financial difficulties to broken bones and a cancer scare, and his mental and emotional state were in the dumps when his beloved little boy was hospitalised with a life-threatening condition. He got angry at God, but he also prayed and asked for a miracle, and God delivered, saving his little boy and restoring his faith forever. And with the way the book has been selling, it looks like the financial troubles have been obliterated too.

But for people who have a healthy scepticism of these types of claims, there are also plenty of ways to dismiss Heaven is for Real, with the most obvious being that the kid has clearly been indoctrinated from birth. His entire life up to that point revolved around his religion — his parents read him Bible stories every night, he goes to church all the time, he attends Sunday school every week. Even the movies they watch have Christian themes (eg, the Narnia series). Todd Burpo says his son talked about things in the Bible he couldn’t possibly have known, but that could be just parents underestimating their kids. I know I’m often amazed at some of the things my 2-year-old knows and says every day, wondering how the heck and where the heck he picked them up. Throw in a “leading questions”-type approach from the parents, a bit of wishful thinking and a touch of literary embellishment, and it’s not hard to conclude that little Colton was likely suffering from a wild imagination and a desire to please his parents, who had probably subconsciously encouraged him with their excited body language and readiness to believe whatever he said.

The kicker, which I forgot to mention, is that there was never any medical proof, or even suggestion, that Colton was medically “dead” during his surgery. How can someone have a near-death experience when they’re not actually close to death?

That said, I think being completely dismissive of the book is being unfair to the Burpos, who seem like wonderful people and devout Christians who genuinely believe what happened to them was a miracle. This is where being a pastor is a double-edged sword. On the one hand you could say it supports the view that he would not lie and that it makes perfect sense why God would want to reward a family like theirs for their faith, but on the other you could just write it off as a biased preacher hearing what he wanted to hear and skewing everything in the direction that matches his beliefs.

My view is somewhat mixed. Some of the things Colton says defy explanation, and even if you don’t believe he went to heaven you have to admit they are eerily compelling. However, out-of-body experiences, not just NDEs, are not uncommon phenomena (there’s a never-ending amount of literature out there for open-minded people who want to read it), and while most of them have both common and unique elements (such as Eben Alexander’s experience in Proof of Heaven), few come close to meetings with Jesus or corroborating the literal truth of the Bible.

What the literature suggests is that the afterlife, supposing there is one, is a subjective, almost tailor-made experience. People tend to see things and meet people that comfort them, even family members they haven’t met before or don’t remember meeting. Now, I can’t possibly know if little Colton had an out-of-body experience or just an awesome dream, but if we assume he did, could it be that what he saw, given his uber religious upbringing, are just the things that comfort him the most? The things that he would want to, or even expect to, see when he dies? I’m not even sure that makes sense, but it’s food for thought.

Anyway, Heaven is for Real was a fun read that has the potential to be a good or extremely awful movie. I actually enjoyed the first half, about the Burpo family’s struggles and Colton’s frightening health scare, than the second, when the Christian imagery started raining down on the pages and tedious chunks of Biblical verses began getting rolled out to match everything Colton was saying. Christians will say it proves the truth of heaven and the Bible, while non-believers will say it only proves the depths of human stupidity and naivete. Overall, it’s still a book I would recommend to people I think will appreciate it for what it is — a story that will make us think about the nature of life and asks us what we ultimately want to believe when we die.

3/5

PS: Here’s the trailer for the film, starring Greg Kinnear, scheduled for an April 16 release.

Book Review: ‘David and Goliath’ by Malcolm Gladwell

March 26, 2014 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

gladwell_david and goliath

Malcolm Gladwell is one massive brain, and he even looks a little like one. He takes interesting ideas, builds a line of argument, and develops the concept into fascinating, easy-to-read books that also happen to be page-turners. His latest, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, which tackles our misconceptions of perceived advantages and disadvantages, is no different.

The book starts off with a clever take on the Biblical encounter between David and Goliath — you know, story about the little shepherd boy who defeats the massive, unstoppable giant warrior, presumably because he was infused with the power of God.  But oh no, Gladwell says. Contrary to what the Bible would want you to believe, David actually had all the advantages, with experts saying that his sling shot basically had the power and accuracy of a modern gun. Goliath, on the other hand, was large and immobile, and he was probably also nearly blind because of the condition that caused him to grow to such an enormous size.

That fun little introduction paves the way for many more examples to back up Gladwell’s theory that many of our preconceived notions about the world are wrong. In the ensuing chapters, Gladwell challenges the notions that smaller classes are better than bigger ones, that it is better to go to a top school than a mid-tier one, and that dyslexia is always a debilitating disadvantage to have. Is it better to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a little pond? Does being nearly bombed in war make people more frightened or more courageous? Is the three-strike rule in crime prevention and punishment effective? These are just some of the questions he asks, and the answers he comes up with might surprise you.

One of the central pieces to his arguments is the inverted U-curve, which suggests that too much of a good thing will start generating diminishing returns, before eventually leading to negative returns. An example is the link between money and raising children. Being poor obviously makes it difficult to raise kids, and of course having more money will make it easier. But at some stage the richer you become the harder it will be to raise kids because they’re so comfortable and pampered that it’s almost impossible to motivate them to do anything.

As usual, Gladwell finds brilliant case studies with extensive research, humorous anecdotes and personal interviews to support his conclusions. He does oversimplify at times to make his point, but to his credit there are extensive notes and sources of further reading at the end of the book. I was also impressed with the breadth of topics he explores. As mentioned above, he considers things such as the Bible stories, the education system, dyslexia and crime prevention, but he goes even further as the book progresses, taking on the civil rights movement in the US, Northern Ireland and WWII. Some of the links are a little tenuous and I occasionally had to remind myself what the central argument of the book is about, but I guess that’s what happens when you try and fit everything under the same umbrella.

On the whole, this is another strong effort by Gladwell. I didn’t find it as engrossing as say Outliers, and I felt the David and Goliath story was such a fantastic start that the rest of the book felt weaker by comparison, but by the standards of any other book of the same genre this is an excellent read — friendly, informative, witty, well constructed and compelling.

4/5

PS: I was drawn to the book after watching Gladwell promote it on Jimmy Kimmel. Here’s the 2-part interview where he talks about the David and Goliath story and the benefits of dyslexia.

Book Review: ‘Simply Christianity’ by John Dickson

February 25, 2014 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

simply

After reading Reza Aslan’s controversial Zealot, which aims to separate the “Biblical Jesus” from the “historical Jesus”, I thought I would balance things out a little bit by reading Aussie John Dickson’s Simply Christianity, which is basically an annotated version of the Gospel of Luke.

The subtitle of Simply Christianity is Beyond Religion, which explains the rationale behind the book. In essence, Dickson says that a lot of people purposely avoid looking into Christianity because there are so many versions on offer, but to do so is missing the point of Christianity. The aim of the book, therefore, is to go beyond the dogma of religion, to peel back all the stuff that make people wary of religion, so that you can get to the core of what Christianity is all about.

To do so, Dickson chooses to present the Gospel of Luke in its entirety — minus the bits that are in contention among scholars — because it’s famous for Jesus’s relationship with “non-religious” people and is therefore easier to relate for his readers. Even though the author of Luke had not personally met Jesus he is believed to have interviewed people who had, but more importantly, he appears to be placing an emphasis on the “reliability” of his work, which was written for an individual by the name of Theophilus.

Each section of Luke’s Gospel is accompanied by Dickson’s personal notes and explanations to help clarify and emphasize the salient points of that particular section. It’s a lot easier that just reading Luke’s Gospel in isolation, that’s for sure. And at the end of the book there is about another 40 pages of “additional information” about the so-called “myths” on the reliability of the Gospels, the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus’s coming, and counterarguments against claims that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead.

These notes at the back are not the core of the book, so the arguments are obviously quite brief and simplified. In the “myths” section, for example, Dickson tackles things like the myth of language translation, the myth of copying errors, lies and bias. He writes each of these off, one by one, with seemingly convincing arguments, but fails to consider the broader picture, such as the possibility that while certain passages in the Gospels were not originally intended to be outright lies, they may have been subsequently moulded and manipulated to suit a particular early Christian agenda.

There were also some factual discrepancies that leaped out at me. For instance in Zealot, Aslan says none of the Gospel writers knew Jesus in person, though Dickson says in Simply Christianity that the Gospels of Matthew and John appear to have been written by eyewitnesses who travelled and worked with Jesus for three years. How is it possible that both scholars are so confident in their version of events?

That said, the most compelling arguments for Christianity remain, being: Jesus most probably did have the power to heal the sick; and people who swore that Jesus rose from the dead refused to recant their testimonies despite torture and death. As Dickson said, it’s one thing to die for a belief, it’s another to die for something you know to be a lie. Of course, being able to heal and rise from the dead only prove Jesus is an amazing dude and not necessarily that he is exactly who the Bible says he is. By the way, why is the resurrection considered such a big deal when Jesus had already been bringing other dead people back to life? Isn’t raising other people from the dead just as impressive, if not more so, as raising yourself back from the dead?

Prior to this book, Dickson had written three previous books about Christianity that were bestsellers in Australia and the UK, so I thought there must be something about his writing that readers can relate to. He’s a good writer who employs solid analytic skills in trying to help readers make sense of the Bible, and importantly, he has a sense of humour about religion and often makes interesting analogies using modern culture and pop culture. It makes for an easy yet informative read, though at times his tone borders on patronizing, giving rise to a sneaking suspicion that he thinks most of his readers are not very bright or can’t think for themselves.

As with books of this kind, the arguments in Simply Christianity are obviously skewed in one direction, though the same can of course be said for books at the other end of the spectrum. If I hadn’t read some of the so-called “anti-Christian” books such as Zealot, I would think Dickson paints a pretty convincing case. But since I have, it becomes much easier to doubt some of the things he says. Further, I felt he had a tendency to gloss over, oversimplify or generalize certain aspects of the debate. For instance, in trying to bolster the believability of the Gospels, Dickson says that the Gospels of Mark and Luke were based on eyewitness information of people close to Jesus and are therefore analogous to us (the reader) interviewing him to write an essay about his wife. Actually, it’s not quite the same. For starters, we don’t know exactly who wrote the Gospels and even the earliest available versions are copies that may have already been manipulated from the originals. And secondly, his wife doesn’t claim to be the direct offspring of God.

Interestingly, Dickson confidently states near the start of the book that the best way to weigh the issues relating to the trustworthiness of the Gospels is just to read them. Well, I did and I have to admit it raised at least as many doubts as it quashed. Frankly, many parts of Luke’s Gospel, supposedly one of the more level headed ones, reads like a fairytale, with angels appearing in the sky and talking to people and Satan himself literally speaking to Jesus (whom by the way fasted in the desert for 40 days). And as for stories like Satan testing Jesus with the three temptations or claims that Judas betrayed Jesus because he was possessed by Satan — are these supposed to be eyewitness accounts? How could anyone believe this is an eyewitness account, let alone a reliable one?

Of course, none of this in any way negates the existence of God or the core belief of Christianity in that Jesus is the Son of God and rose from the dead, but it does suggest to me that anyone who claims the Bible is infallible and that it is the literal word of God probably hasn’t read it carefully enough. Indeed, most reasonable Christians will take these stories as parables where the literal truth is unimportant compared to the message it is trying to convey.

To conclude: Simply Christianity is a fairly fascinating and occasionally eye-opening read, though I have my doubts about its the ability to convert sceptics into believers. That said, the book could provide the catalyst for people who are sceptical about Christianity to research more about it. Whether they find themselves more convinced or less convinced as a result of that research is a whole other can of worms.

3/5

PS: At least I can say now that I’ve read a whole book of the Bible, and I actually understand it.

Book Review: ‘My Story’ by Elizabeth Smart & Chris Stewart

February 13, 2014 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

my story

Released late last year, My Story is a first person account how 14-year-old Utah teen Elizabeth Smart was abducted by a perverted homeless preacher and his wife in 2002 and held as a sex slave for nine months. I vaguely remember reading about the abduction when it happened, though it wasn’t until she was rescued and details of her harrowing ordeal came to light that the story spread to international headlines. Her name came up again when she married a Scottish missionary in 2012, and I recall mentioning that she bore quite a resemblance to 24 actress Elisha Cuthbert.

What do you think?

What do you think?

There are many articles, several books and a TV movie about her story, but it has taken more than 10 years for Smart to build the courage to tell her story in her own words, with some help from the book’s other author, Chris Stewart, an American politician, author, and fellow devout Mormon.

When I began reading the book I did not know much about Smart, her abductors or the details of her captivity — I didn’t even know how long she had been held for. But if you would like to know a bit of the background, then here it is (skip if you prefer not to know): Smart was 14 years old when she was snatched from her Salt Lake home at knife-point by Brian David Mitchell, a homeless man who claims to be a prophet of God, in June 2002. She was led back to a small camp in the woods where she was made Mitchell’s “second wife” and forced to live with him and his first wife, Wanda Barzee. She was raped daily and repeatedly and went for days with little to no food or water. Initially she was chained to a tree, but later on she accompanied Mitchell and Barzee on little expeditions to the city. They then moved to San Diego, but a few months later returned to Utah, where she was eventually rescued by police.

While I applaud the attempt and Smart’s message of hope despite enduring what most of us can’t even begin to fathom, the truth is that My Story is not a great book. I had always thought that a true story is better when it comes straight from the mouth (or in this case, the fingers) of the person who actually experienced it, but this book has provided a perfect example of why that is not necessarily a good idea.

The content is all there, but the quality of the writing is lacking. I’m not in any way trying to blame poor Smart — she’s was just a girl when taken and not a professional writer, but Stewart, whom she collaborated with to bring the book to life, and the editor(s) of the book, should have done a better job of balancing out the narrative to make it a more engaging and compelling read. At times the narrative is chatty like this blog (with lots of exclamations! and comments in parenthesis), while other times it can read like a personal diary or a preacher’s sermon. Occasionally it becomes journalistic. The story would at times feel like Smart is telling it as though she’s back in the moment as an immature teenager, but then, without warning, she would seem removed from child herself and be telling the story from the present as a 25-year-old adult.  The contrast is jarring, and if feels like you can almost tell which parts Smart wrote herself and which parts were added in or shaped by other writers and editors.

I also found it interesting, but not surprising considering Smart’s strict Mormon upbringing and beliefs, that some of the more gruesome aspects of Smart’s ordeal were self-censored and skimped over. For instance, she says that Mitchell forced her to engage in certain degrading acts against her will, but she doesn’t really suggest what they are. It’s not that I want to read all the disgusting details, but the decision to sanitise the story for the sake of protecting readers mutes the emotional power of the story .

It was also difficult to relate to Smart at times even though she was telling her own story. Part of it is because she is a very devout Mormon and had a strict and sheltered upbringing — which is why she did not come across as an “ordinary” 14-year-old American teenager and felt like someone much younger and more naive . But these are obviously not things she would say about herself. If you don’t keep her background firmly in mind, there is a risk that parts of her ordeal will feel incredible, perhaps even unbelievable. I was dumbfounded by the sheer number of occasions she could have easily escaped or sought help — including, most ridiculously, when they were confronted by a suspecting detective in public — but ended up doing nothing, even when she repeatedly emphasized that she did not suffer from Stockholm Syndrome and absolutely loathed her evil captors.

I’m not doubting Smart’s credibility for one second, but hearing an explanation from a different voice might have made her actions, reactions and thoughts easier to understand. Instead, it sometimes felt like she was trying to justify why she acted a certain way, and I would have preferred a psychologist or medical expert to try and explain her behaviour, that is assuming it can be explained at all. In fact, it wasn’t until her rescue that I began to appreciate the gravity of the paralysing fear she felt in Mitchell’s presence during those nine months — and realised that perhaps until you go through something that traumatic yourself you don’t have the right to judge the reactions of others.

The final chapters after her rescue are the strongest parts of the book and provide more depth and insight into Smart’s character, her incredible resolve and the wondrous support of her family. Be warned though that as Smart is the narrator, her unwavering belief in God is a theme that appears continuously throughout the course of the book. Personally, I was impressed with how she could do that despite everything she has been through, though I can also understand if some readers find her unshakable conviction in her faith a little irritating.

Note that this not the only book you would read if you want to find out the entire Elizabeth Smart kidnapping story and is probably something better suited for people who already know a little about the case or have seen the TV movie or read about it elsewhere. There is very little information in these pages about who her abductors were and what happened during their subsequent trial, nor does it go into any of the drama in her household during her absence, including the suspicions against her family and manhunts for wrong suspects. It’s more of a blow-by-blow personal account of her nine months in captivity, and that’s it, with no real attempt to provide a comprehensive background or context before or after the events.

In the end, My Story came as advertised because it really is Elizabeth Smart’s story, flaws and all. It’s a terrifying story about overcoming unspeakable acts of cruelty and degradation, but it’s also tale of hope about coming up with the strength to move on with life when so many of the things you value are shattered and can never be recovered. The personal details of Smart’s harrowing ordeal will keep you flipping the pages, though I must admit I was somewhat disappointed that it was not a more captivating read.

3/5

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