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Mini Reviews: “Cartwheels in a Sari,” “The 19th Wife,” and ”Spellbinder”

Whew, I’ve been slacking! Just on the posting though, not on the actual reading, which is an improvement!

Mini Reviews - Miscellaneous

I finished Cartwheels in a Sari by Jayanti Tamm first. It’s a very well written, interesting memoir about growing up as part of a cult.

When her parents break their guru’s rule about sex and her mother ends up pregnant, their guru tells them he has arranged for a special soul to be sent to them, a soul that will be his perfect disciple on earth. Tamm was told from infancy that she was this special soul. The story follows her into her 20s, when she finally breaks with her guru.

The thing I liked most about Cartwheels in a Sari was the honesty with which Tamm writes. In some memoirs, the author’s bias or agenda seeps heavily into the narrative. With this book, however, Tamm tells her story moment by moment as she felt about each event as it happened. The result is that in addition to being a good story, the book helps you understand the mentality of such a cult and why someone would feel the need to be a part of it. I was reading this book at the same time that I was listening to David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife on CD, and there were a surprising number of parallels.

The 19th Wife is really two stories spliced together, plus fictional newspaper articles, school papers, letters, journal entries, and Wikipedia entries. The first story is that of Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young’s wives who ended up divorcing him and becoming one of polygamy’s most outspoken critics. It is her fictional memoir, which is based on her actual memoir.

Interspersed with Ann Eliza’s story is that of Jordan Scott, a “lost boy” who was kicked out of the polygamist cult in which he was raised and left to fend for himself. When he comes across a picture of his mother online accompanying a story about her arrest for the murder of Jordan’s father, Jordan finds himself heading from California to Utah to find out what really happened.

The whole thing took up 15 CDs, which took me two months of driving to and from work plus listening at home to finish. It was a lot. I was fascinated by the two main story lines, but the supplementary “documents” got to be a lot. I think that if I’d been reading the book instead of listening it would have been better, and they certainly added depth to the two main stories. Definitely a book worth reading, and really interesting when read in conjunction with Cartwheels in a Sari, about a totally different yet eerily similar cult situation.

Finally, I just sped through a galley lent to me by a coworker: Spellbinder by Helen Stringer. It’s a young adult novel coming out next month.

Spellbinder reminded me a lot of The Prophecy of Sisters by Michelle Zink. Both follow main characters who find out there is more to their reality than they believe (think other worlds and supernatural beings) and that they have key roles to play in the overall scheme of the universe. Spellbinder has more humorous bits; even the wording itself tends toward sarcasm instead of drama. The Prophecy of Sisters, on the other hand, is very much about the drama. Spellbinder is also contemporary; Prophecy is set a couple of centuries ago. Both were fun reads. Prophecy leaves you hanging, and while Spellbinder wraps up most of the story, there’s definitely room for many sequels to come!

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