Book Beginnings and Friday 56 – Stories from Jonestown (December 21)

stories from jonestown largeMy choice of book for this week’s Friday meme combo is Stories from Jonestown by Leigh Fondakowski. I’m currently reading an ARC galley of this from NetGalley. When I saw it there I knew that I wanted to read it, because there is so much about what happened in Jonestown in 1978 that I don’t know about or understand, as I was only 12 when the events took place there. It is expected that the book will be available on February 1. GoodReads has the following description:

The saga of Jonestown didn’t end on the day in November 1978 when more than nine hundred Americans died in a mass murder-suicide in the Guyanese jungle. While only a handful of people present at the agricultural project survived that day in Jonestown, more than eighty members of Peoples Temple, led by Jim Jones, were elsewhere in Guyana on that day, and thousands more members of the movement still lived in California. Emmy-nominated writer Leigh Fondakowski, who is best known for her work on the play and HBO film The Laramie Project, spent three years traveling the United States to interview these survivors, many of whom have never talked publicly about the tragedy. Using more than two hundred hours of interview material, Fondakowski creates intimate portraits of these survivors as they tell their unforgettable stories.

Collectively this is a record of ordinary people, stigmatized as cultists, who after the Jonestown massacre were left to deal with their grief, reassemble their lives, and try to make sense of how a movement born in a gospel of racial and social justice could have gone so horrifically wrong—taking with it the lives of their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters. As these survivors look back, we learn what led them to join the Peoples Temple movement, what life in the church was like, and how the trauma of Jonestown’s end still affects their lives decades later.

What emerges are portrayals both haunting and hopeful—of unimaginable sadness, guilt, and shame but also resilience and redemption. Weaving her own artistic journey of discovery throughout the book in a compelling historical context, Fondakowski delivers, with both empathy and clarity, one of the most gripping, moving, and humanizing accounts of Jonestown ever written.

Now for this week’s excerpts:

book beginningsBook Beginnings is hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader, who invites anyone to join in, saying: ‘Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.  Please remember to include the title of the book and the author. Leave a link to your post.  If you don’t have a blog, but want to participate, please leave a comment with your Book Beginning.’

The beginning(s) of Stories from Jonestown:

(from the introduction) On November 17, 1978, the residents of the agricultural project known as Jonestown put on a concert for U.S. Congressman Leo J. Ryan (D-CA). The Jonestown band, the Jonestown Express, performed a set of songs on a makeshift stage above which hung the hand-lettered sign, “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

(from the first page) The project begins. It is the twenty-third anniversary of the Jonestown tragedy. I fly in from New York. The memorial service at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Men in dark suits unload a tent and white wooden chairs from a small Ryder truck parked on the side of the road.

This is the kind of book that doesn’t really need a catchy beginning, but I like the fact that the author chose that particular quote as part of her opening paragraph.

Friday 56The Friday 56 is a book meme hosted by Freda’s Voice and the rules are as follows:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56.
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post below in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url.

It’s that simple.

From page 56 of Stories from Jonestown:

“I say I’ve forgiven myself for a lot of things I haven’t forgiven myself for. I feel like I failed a lot of people and I hurt a lot of people. And I feel anger – and I don’t want to feel angry – but I get so angry when I hear people talk about, ‘Yes, we were wonderful,’ and I realize they’re just wanting to balance out the image of the crazy cultists piled up in the jungle. But that’s just not what I want to do.”

This is about the point I am at in the book right now, but I’m finding that it’s a very compulsive and engaging read. I’ll hopefully get a fair bit of it read over the weekend and might have it finished by Christmas, with hopefully a review up early in the New Year.


10 thoughts on “Book Beginnings and Friday 56 – Stories from Jonestown (December 21)

  1. I vaguely remember hearing about this happening, but I was quite young and had no idea it was such a tragedy. I’d be interested in reading this book and finding out more about it. Thanks for sharing.

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