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I found this a compulsive and compelling read. Also rather uncomfortably close to home as I too found myself drawn, at a vulnerable time in my life, into a fledgling commune with a charismatic leader. And I too followed this leader to New Zealand and found myself, at a certain point, agreeing to sell my house in the UK to buy a commune house in NZ. A major family crisis drew me back to the UK at a critical time and I soon 'woke up' to what had really been happening in NZ. I realised I'd been brainwashed and it was only the support of family and friends that encouraged me to engage a lawyer to help me fight to get a very large sum of money back. This action was successful but, alone, I would have been too weak to fight back. I was terrified of the fall out and got a lot of hate mail from the commune. I have never returned to NZ. In the end it took years for me to finally free myself from the mental clutches of this leader. It was a harrowing experience but ultimately enlightening. All my questions about how intelligent adults get sucked into cults and brainwashed in this way were answered by my own experience. We all have our weak moments and this can happen to anyone. I am much wiser and more aware because of this experience.
There are books you love, books you read again and books you know you will remember for a long time. But I don't always remember the detail. This one, I most definately will remember the detail. A great read and I would give it more than 5 stars if possible. Charity Norman does not shy from difficult or controversial subjects. Cassie is a bright, intelligent 20 year old law student. She flies to New Zealand with her boyfriend for some adventuring before continuing her law course. After an argument with the boyfriend, she walks away and at this point, she becomes vulnerable. Enter the white van full of friendly, happy, welcoming people who offer her a lift, kindness and love. Beginning of what you feel you would NEVER get drawn into. But Cassie is alone, wet, cold, on the other side of the world. Lots of emotions in this book. Not just for Cassie but her family back in England. I found myself, frustrated and angry, sad tense. By the time I got to the last two or three chapters, I was beginning to nail bite (and I don't!) A lot of names to absorb in this, but don't worry if you don't get them all of the time. A big thank you to Charikty Norman. It filled my mind the whole time I was reading it and it will be with me for a long time to come.
I really enjoyed this story, quite an unusual plot line - young couple go travelling, so far so normal, but in New Zealand, Cassie, the girl, is persuaded to stay for a while at a kind of hippy community, led by a charismatic leader, who we discover later believes himself to be the Messiah. We watch the way she is persuaded and manipulated and brainwashed by these people. At home her family literally falls apart, unable to contact her, desperately waiting and wondering, while Cassie’s life changes for ever. The one thing which frustrated me was the fact that the people in the community are all given names of cities or countries - Aden, Rome, Bali, Chernobyl, Damascus. It is very hard to remember who is who with no clue as to gender! I wondered how on earth the author was going to find a satisfactory ending for such a sad story, where the parents are heartbroken and the daughter is kept brainwashed in the closed community, but the way the characters develop is very believable, and the ending too is completely plausible and entirely satisfactory.
There is no doubting Norman's writing ability and this novel is possibly her best yet. It is a compelling and brutally honest account of what happens when an ordinary middle class girl is sucked into a cult, while travelling in New Zealand. Cassie is at a very vulnerable point in her life, feeling pressured by parental expectations, out of touch with her materialistic boyfriend and with a secret worry that everything could make everything much worse. The author does a brilliant job of showing how a controlling cult operates - love bombing/sleep deprivation/isolation from loved ones/brainwashing - without making the mistake of turning the members into monsters. In many ways Gethsemane seemed like a wonderful place, free from the pressures of modern life - in fact subtract the charismatic controlling cult leader Justin and I wouldn't mind living there myself! One thing did strike a false note - a character seems to recover from the brainwashing far too quickly - by my estimates it would take weeks - but I understand that is necessary to drive the plot along. The ending is quite remarkable and raises the question - did Cassie/Cairo REALLY take a wrong turn in her life or was this her destiny all along? Definitely worth reading and nice to find an author who maintains her high standards instead of turning out second hand potboilers.
I am only 30% through this book as I write this comment
I could say a lot about this book - it lacks character development, is predictable etc but for me, the annoying thing is the number of lesser characters all with place names that disguise their gender.
Now I know the commune did not want to make distinctions between the genders but that leads to great confusion for the reader. I have just read a longish passage in which Cassy is talking with 2 of the residents of Gethsemane. It was only at the very end of the passage that it becomes apparent that they are both female which had a bearing on how the conversation had progressed.
Whilst the idea of calling people by the names of beautiful places may be an interesting concept, it just succeeds in confusing the reader. Disappointing so far.
Cassy waved goodbye to her parents to go on a short trip to New Zealand with her boyfriend, however they had no idea that it would be years before they saw her again. Cassy her her boyfriend break up and one day she accepts a lift from a friendly group of people who invite her to stay in their community. She loves the peace and beauty of the valley and gets swept up in the charisma of Justin, the community’s leader and becomes convinced she has to stay. As she becomes more entrenched in the rituals, her parents fight to bring her home - before Justin’s last day comes to pass.
The book is told in both Cassy and her mum Diana’s viewpoints. Cassy not returning home when she should have and cutting her family off affected them all and they would never be the same again.
A powerful story which gave me a good insight into the world of cults. The first book I have read by this Author too, I’m looking forward to reading many more!
Highly anticipated this newest book from one of my recent most favourite authors. It didn't disappoint. Totally gripping from the first page, absorbing and "up put downable to the end" Another complex and potentially sensational story line covered with sensitivity, thought and kindness. I particular like how the story line unfolds from different people's perspectives, all of whom have a different and authentic voice, enabling a picture to emerge with often contradictory view points from characters who develop and change as the novel progresses. Again, as with other novels - you get a real sense of place, time and personality a real treat
This novel is very different from other Charity Norman books I've read. It will definitely send a shiver down your back if you have children of any age, more so if you have older teenagers becoming keen to stretch their wings and "do their own thing". The action is split between England and New Zealand - the landscape descriptions of the latter being particularly stunning. Norman has a good ear for dialogue too. It's definitely possible to read and enjoy the book with no religious background whatsoever, but the religious details add to the build up of the plot. I had to read it twice, just to check how, when everything changed, and I suspect any other readers will too. The ending does not let us down either; it would be fair to say that we tend to expect a rather formulaic outcome - either a very unlikely happy end or a ending where everyone gets their just desserts. Here the ending is more thought-provoking. A very fast read , as you won't be able to put it down!
I really enjoyed this book although I admit I didn't expect to. Very cleverly portrayed from all characters perspectives and very unsettling at times as you could see how easily it could - and does happen. The 'Rules' dropped in throughout the book were inspired but actually quite scary as could just as equally apply to the way the press and most governments treat the population. I notice one reviewer felt the transformation of Cassy to be a somewhat unbelievable in such a short space of time, but lack of sleep, vulnerability, to say nothing of changing hormones would make her an easy target, in fact sleep deprivation is a key part of many brainwashing acts.
I highly recommend this book but try and look at it as a bigger picture, as this brainwashing does happen on every day in every part of our lives, and this riveting book shows just how easily it can be done.
The author was born in Uganda, lived in several vicarages in England, qualified as a barrister then gave that life up and moved to New Zealand to become an author. That background is relevant to this book. Despite being an avid reader for many years, I do not think I have read a book on this theme before. Essentially, the story is about a young law student who tires both of life in a middle class, stable English family and of being a law student. A backpacking trip to New Zealand turns sour and she is befriended by warm, wonderful people who introduce her to life in a secluded cult. We know that she is being seduced by these people because the author intermittently explains the steps that need to be taken by any cult wishing to entrap recruits. I found the book disturbing but it certainly hooked me. The leader of the cult believes himself to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ and he is a very convincing character. The ending is somewhat predictable but I found the book to be a thoughtful and subtle portayal of this weird, hidden world. As the father of two daughters I was rather spooked by the concepts described. Well worth reading and a genuine challenge to our concept of what makes up a loving family.