Book reviews: non-fiction from M.J. Fievre, John Miller and B Smith
The horror of Haiti, a feud within the early Mormon church, and the coming Alzheimer’s crisis are this week’s picks
A Sky the Color of Chaos
by M.J. Fievre
Beating Windward Press (e-book)
This is a tormented memoir of violence in the home and country of M.J. Fievre’s childhood. Hers is a story of a difficult relationship with her father, a Jekyll-and-Hyde character given to rages, when he would threaten to kill his family, and with Haiti at a time of political turbulence in the years after Baby Doc Duvalier’s removal. In 1991, when Fievre was 10, former Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, elected the previous year, was overthrown by the military. On the night of his exile, she writes, political prisoners were killed, “one bullet in each head”. There’s more death, and threat of such, as thugs, some former tontons macoutes (Duvalier’s personal police), menace families with machetes and guns. Fievre even keeps a list of random deaths in a Hello Kitty diary. Though brutal, these descriptions somehow pale in comparison to the episode in which Fievre, emboldened by a pocket knife, confronts her father, who, in his professional life, is a charming law teacher. She declares, “I hate you.” He replies, “You know where the guns are.” Stories, wonderfully paced, fill this book. They will give you the shivers.
The Polygamist King
by John Miller
Amazon Digital Services (e-book)
Visit www.strangite.org and you will see the small remnant of Mormonism that tries to keep the original faith. These are followers and supporters of Joseph Smith’s 1844 decision to appoint James Strang as successor. Believe what you will, and people accept many stranger things as truth, but this is a fascinating story about not just Strang but also the place of religion in the public sphere. John Miller, who sees Strang as a fraud in claiming to be Smith’s heir, tells how his protagonist stoked anti-Mormon sentiment, which eventuated in his murder and the eviction from Beaver Island, Michigan, of his followers, many of whom went on to become members of the Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or disciples of Brigham Young in Utah. Fascinating parts to the story are the roles played by clothing (who knew bloomers could have such historical significance) and how race became a divisive point (Strang’s church ordained a black man). Despite Strang’s initial condemnation of polygamy (in contrast to Young, who had more than 50 wives), at the time of his death, all four of his plural wives were pregnant.
Before I Forget
by B Smith and Dan Gasby
Random House Audio (audiobook)
Before I Forget makes the message clear: Alzheimer’s will affect increasing numbers of people the longer we live. In the US at least, a third of those aged 85 and above are afflicted by the disease (and African-Americans are twice as susceptible as Caucasians). The book, a personal account of how it has affected former model and TV personality B. Smith and her husband, Dan Gasby, allows readers to hear the points of view of both parties. She doesn’t believe she needs home-care help; her husband thinks otherwise. He also takes away her car keys, but this is something she doesn’t fight, even though losing the right to drive makes her angry. Underscored is the importance of seeking medical help sooner rather than later because the existing drugs seem to work only with patients who don’t yet have the disease. The authors also urge people to have a PET Imaging Diagnosis, which determines whether those memory lapses should be taken seriously. The book, read by the authors, helps to raise awareness that 2020 is the target date for managing Alzheimer’s – not curing or preventing it but keeping the disease in check.