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Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer Reading Log: Stories from Jonestown

As a kid, I had some strange and varied obsessions (my children have followed in my footsteps): ghost stories, urban legends, the supernatural, and Jonestown and the Peoples' Temple. When we finally had cable, I was able to indulge not only in books about my favorite subjects but made-for-television movies. I watched Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones every time it came on television. Powers Boothe captivated me as the charismatic leader, and I would wonder in my head if I would ever possibly find myself following someone like that. The members of the Peoples' Temple seemed like smart people. I was a smart person. How did smart people get in situations like that?

Leigh Fondakowski and her partners do a great job capturing stories of people who are survivors of Jonestown, either because they left or because they were in Georgetown the night of the mass killing, or because they are family members who watched daughters, sons, grandchildren, sisters, and brothers leave for Jonestown. They are the ones left behind to tell stories.

The format is a bit dry but works well for telling these tragic stories. Fondakowski is a great reporter and journalist. She worked on The Laramie Project.Survivors share repeatedly how demeaning it is to say the members of the Peoples' Temple were "brainwashed," and how they cringe when someone uses the careless phrase "drank the Kool-Aid." You'll find that many believed in the utopian, Marxist society Jones said he was trying to build. Remember this started in an era of racial turmoil, in Indianapolis, which was known for its racism.

Interviews with Jones' children are especially enlightening.

If you're interested in getting beyond the sensationalism of Jim Jones' charisma, drug abuse, and sexual conquests, and instead want to read heartbreaking and hopeful stories from survivors of his society, Stories from Jonestown is a good place to start.

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