Tag Archives: memoir and biography

Escape by Carolyn Jessop


Escape is a haunting biography of Carolyn Jessop, a woman who was born into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints community, a religious group in United States around Utah and Arizona. A religious group who believes in polygamy, woman degradation, absolute obedience, children brainwashing, apocalypse with resurrected Indian heroes and evil black people, and a bunch of other crap. Everything in the name of God. Seriously, like it’s mentioned in the book, how can things that are so harmful be works of God?

Carolyn was forced into marriage when she was 18 to a man of 50 years old. She was his 4th wife. She had 8 children in 15 years. The man married more women after Carolyn, last count up to 14. One would wonder, how anyone could be “trapped” into believing all those things and live faithfully for years (for lots of them, forever). This book explains how having been born in so tight community and programmed into following the rules, make people subservient. When you see only one way of living, it’s probably hard to imagine living any other way.

Escape covers Carolyn’s life from she was little, all throughout her marriage and struggles with Merril Jessop, until the end of her escape, closed by the winning of her custody battle for her children. She became the first woman who ever granted full custody of her children in a contested suit involving the FLDS. All 8 of them.

A blurb from Jon Krakauer sums it well:

“The story Carolyn Jessop tells is so weird and shocking that one hesitates to believe a sect like this with 10,000 polygamous followers, could really exist in twenty-first-century America. But Jessop’s courageous, heart-wrenching account is absolutely factual. This riveting book reminds us that truth can indeed be much, much stranger than fiction.”

The last leader of FLDS, Warren Jeffs, was caught in 2007. In 2006 he was in FBI Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List. He was indicted with numerous counts including sexual conduct with minor, incest, and rape as an accomplice. From what Carolyn tells in her book, the leaders before Jeffs were sort of still okay. Sure, they practiced polygamy and they preached random forecasts of the state of the world. But they were still sympathetic. This Jeffs guy though, sounds like a total nutcase. He’s just out of his mind. Hungry for power, he just kept making things up to make people suffer. He’s crazy. Period. It’s tough to have a crazy man to be your leader who you believe is a prophet of God. Really.

I find stories about twisted churches are always interesting. How they can stray so far from their root is beyond me. In fact, stories about religions often fascinate me. How the hands of men are always the ones that twist and turn everything, rather than works of God. What an irony.

My only complaint is that the book is quite repetitive in stating the points of how unvaluable and miserable the women are in the community. It slows down somewhere in the middle too. But all in all, it’s a great insightful book. Considering the thickness, I finished it in only a short time. It made me want to know more and more.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Pages: 413
Publication year: 2007

First line

Last line
Freedom is extraordinary, and love a miracle.

Also reviewed by

Maw Books | Mindless Meandering


Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi

I had Coraline and Persepolis 2 on my hands, and I reckon I’d have time to read only 1 before I leave Singapore. So I chose Persepolis 2, because it seemed to be shorter, and is also part of a series. I really love the first one.

In the second Persepolis, it tells the story when Marjane went to live in Austria when she was 14 to run away from the war in Iran. So a good half of the book is set in Austria. How she struggled to live alone away from her family in such a young age, how she tried to fit in as an immigrant, how she felt that she’s lost her identity as an Iranian, and how she struggled through love.

Satrapi decided to return to Iran when she was 18. So the second half of the book is about the story of a return. How still oppressed was Iran, how she struggled to fit back and re-found her identity. Social and politic issues at various places were discussed throughout the book.

I can definitely relate Marjane’s story with my own. I too was sent away out of the country when there was an internal war (although not with guns and tanks, but more with fire and stones). I too had struggled to live alone at other people’s country. But I was 17. And I never returned.

Different with the first book, the tone is more serious, considering that it deals with a lot of depression problems and struggles to become an adult. The book loses little Marjane’s innocence and hope as a child, as the adult Marjane does. But who doesn’t, having to go through all that?

I love the book, though not as much as the first one.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I LOVE this book! I’ve watched Persepolis movie twice and thought that the graphic novel would be just like the movie (good, but similar). But it’s not! It’s BETTER!

The book discusses more sensitive topics around religion and the government in Iran. More social classes issues, more demonstrations, more cruelties. Satrapi is truly one of the lucky ones. Her family is rich and she could get proper education even during war time. Her parents are kindhearted and alive. Still her point of view is really interesting. As a child, she’s critical, rebellious, and simply funny.

The book is divided into many connecting short stories. So the topics are clearer. The movie only took a few selected topics/scenes and worked on those. So there are more told in the book. It covers Satrapi’s childhood, up until she leaves Iran for Austria. The end is oh so sad. There are many sad moments throughout.

I love the art style. It’s simple, yet neat and sweet. I can’t wait to get my hands on the second Persepolis. Hope I could find it soon in my library. I’m actually thinking to buy both books for personal collection since I love the first one so much. *sigh*

Pages: 153
5 out of 5 (I just had to :)

2004 Alex Award

Also reviewed by
Rebecca Reads | Dewey | Nymeth | Kristin

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

I was looking for Persepolis for ages, but it’s always checked out at my library. A few days ago, not only did I find Persepolis (first, but not the second one), but also another graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, called Embroideries.

Embroideries is entertaining reading about the sex lives of Iranian women. After the afternoon lunch, while the men go to have a nap, the women gather around for cups of Samovar (tea). And that way begin a session of “ventilation of the heart”: share of secrets and regrets about virginity, arranged marriage, plastic surgery, and men.

The art style is simpler than Persepolis in a glance, but it’s entertaining indeed. Sweet, short, and funny. Love it :)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

ps: This is probably my first graphic novel.

Also reviewed by

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

This book is a memoir of Ishmael Beah, an ex child soldier during wartime in Sierra Leone. His journey started when the rebels arrived at his village. He was chased from village to village by the war that spread further and further. The places he visited destroyed and his family and brothers killed. Until he met the government side who they called the army, and recruited as a soldier. The youngest of those child soldiers were 7 and 11 years old. They learnt how to shoot when they were not even strong enough to carry the guns.

About half of the book talks about Ishmael’s rehabilitation time. It is so sad that after all the effort and time to humanize the children, the war reached the cities nevertheless and a lot of them needed to go back to their old life. At the end Ishmael ran out of the country to Guinea, the neighbouring country of Sierra Leone. Here I felt that the book stopped almost abruptly, since I thought he was gonna go on until he’s safe in US. (Later on he ran to US with the help of his contacts he met when he went to US for UN conferences)

The story is told fluidly. I never felt it slow down. It’s a good read from beginning til the end. An eye opener for situations that we normally would never think about. And they do happen in some parts of the world. This is why I read memoirs and biographies.

Pages: 229
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2008 Alex Award

First line
My high school friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life.

Last line
I concluded to myself that if I were the hunter, I would shoot the monkey so that it would no longer have the chance to put other hunters in the same predicament.

Also reviewed by

Ramya’s bookshelf | Trish’s Reading Nook

I Choose to Live by Sabine Dardenne

I Choose to Live

In 1996 Sabine Dardenne was kidnapped by Marc Dutroux, the man who turned out to be one of Belgium’s most heinous paedophiles. She was 12 years old. She was his prisoner for 80 long days. Surviving, at the age of 20 years old, she finally decided to write this book, for three reasons: “so that people stop giving me strange looks and treating me like a curiosity; so that no one asks me any more questions ever again; and so that judicial system never again frees a paedophile for ‘good behaviour’.”

A quick and packed book, I finished it in one weekend (and a bit more). Sabine is strong and it’s shown in the book. There’s nothing too graphic, so it’s not too disturbing to read (doesn’t mean the whole thing is not horrifying of course).

I found Sabine was very strong and full of dignity. There was no trace of self-pity and indulgence in sorrow and misery. The writing is clear and straight to the point. I really admire her. I thought the book was great as a memoir and biography. It’s almost flawless.

Rating: 4 out of 5
terrible » poor » mediocre » okay » good » very good » excellent » superb

First line

My name is Sabine.

Last line

And then to forget.


“Falling in love is a serious business, especially when you’re sixteen.” ~ p143

Lucky by Alice Sebold

Lucky by Alice Sebold

This book was released at Singapore OBCZ (Official Bookcrossing Zone) Moonriver Cafe.

So instead of reading Lovely Bones first, I read this book by Alice Sebold. I feel compelled to read Lovely Bones because everybody’s reading it (will do soon). Lucky caught my interest because it’s a true story of the author. I’m a sucker for true survival story, so I grabbed the $5 book.

From the back cover:
In a memoir hailed for its searing candour and wit, Alice Sebold reveals how her life was utterly transformed when, as an 18-year-old college freshman, she was brutally raped and beaten in a park near campus.

I struggled a little bit here and there to continue, finding the details of the story at times hard to swallow. I had problem especially remembering the side characters and their names, and following the overall timeline. The start was a bit slow too, going into details of Sebold’s family: an intellect distant father, an alcoholic depressed mother, and an introvert moody sister, who, despite their flaws, tried their best to fit in into their roles.

You know how one book can be good for one time but not so much for another time? How it really depends on when you read it at which point of your life? That’s how I felt with the book. I wasn’t really into a depressing surviving rape story at that time, so I wasn’t as enthusiastic as I thought I would. I feel a bit guilty for treating it as just that, story. Because it’s not just that. It’s a true and honest insight into Sebold’s chronicle to recovery. The details of how the law worked also introduced new things for me. From affidavit, court, to how the law sometimes works in a funny way for trying to be just and fair to all parties.

Looking back, I would say that Sebold is a fine author, and a mighty survivor. I found it interesting that she ended the book before she met her current husband. I guess I half expected that someone would “save” her at the end. So this sentence in the book could not be more profound: “You save yourself or you remain unsaved.”

Ratings: 3.5 out 5
It’s worth reading for one who’s into the subject or the author, but not exactly enjoyable nor does it stand out as a memoir/biography. Still a huge respect for Sebold for being so bold.

Memorable Quotes

“Memory could save, that it had power, that it was often the only recourse of the powerless, the oppressed, or the brutalized.” ~ pg114

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood

I’ve been following Room to Read for a while before they published this book. Such a good book for more insights about how things came to be.

John Wood himself fits my perfect image of a 20th century hero. He worked at Microsoft as the Marketing Director for Asia Pacific region when one day he took a long due vacation to Nepal, a trip that changed his life. A sentence from the head of school in the mountain, “Perhaps, Sir, you will someday come back with books”, took a profound and long lasting effect in his life, probably more that he could’ve imagined that time. In a year time he came back with books, delivering them with yaks to the kids who were so eager and excited. Not long after, he quit his job, left his luxurious expatriate life, girlfriend, and found Room to Read.

I went to one of Room to Read charity night in Singapore and heard the man himself. I can’t explain how, but I just totally get it when people say he’s a mixed of Donald Trump and Mother Teresa. He looks and feels genuine and kind. You cannot not love this guy. Have I told you he fits my perfect image of 20th century hero?

I admire and support John and his works. This book has done a great job in laying out everything from beginning, his personal thoughts, journey, and struggles. It’s hard to believe that all these started from one man. Whoever said that one man can do very little?

So far Room to Read have “opened 287 schools and established over 3,600 bi-lingual libraries and 110 new computer and language rooms, put more than 2.8 million books into the hands of eager young readers, and are funding long-term scholarships for 2,336 girls. Over 1,200,000 children now have access to enhanced educational infrastructure.” ~ taken from the mailing list signature

~Finished on 28 April 2007


“This love of reading, learning, and exploring new worlds so predominates my memory of youth that I simply could not imagine a childhood without books.” ~ John Wood

“There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

“What good are savings if you can’t use them to fund your dreams?” ~ John Wood

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.” ~ Thomas Edison

Princess by Jean Sasson

princessThis is a true story of a royal princess in Saudi Arabia. A lot of things are very shocking for first time reader on this kind of issue. That’s why most probably it’ll grab your attention from beginning till the end.

For myself the book opens my eyes on culture, society, and issues so far away from mine. How in the other part of the world, there are places where woman has almost no value. No voice. No future. No use but a sex object. And therefore, no meaningful existence.

~ Finished 31 August 2004

4 stars

Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

falling leavesFalling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter is a true story of an unwanted Chinese daughter (as per title ;). The family is one of the richest in Hong Kong, who migrated from mainland China.

I have to give this book a 4 stars, just because of the extra ordinary journey that the author has gone through as written in this book. The writing style though, is more like a report, rarely emotional or dramatic. A lot of scenes are sad and devastating, but she moves on quick instead of dwelling with bitterness. After all, there’s so much to tell and there are only so many pages. I feel like she’s laying out facts and not judgment.

The book is also informative. Notes on history are written along with the main story here and there. I now know the background of why so many people migrated from mainland China to Hong Kong, the story of how Hong Kong advanced so much it became the Pearl of the East, and why the people of China looks at Hong Kong people like they’re the selected top class.

Like to all the evils and wicked in a story, the main question is always “WHY”? Why was the step-mother able to do such things? Why was the father so useless? You’d have more WHYs as you read. Why the brothers? The sister? Grandfather? Auntie? Why? Human beings are crazily complex.

Anyway, if you see the cover I have here, they’re all real pictures of the characters in the book (all deceased). First is Aunt Baba (Father’s sister), second Yeye (Grandfather), third Niang (Stepmother), and the last I assume is Father. (Information taken from author’s website) On the back cover there’s family photo of the kids (young Adeline with her 1 older sister, 3 older brothers, 1 younger half-brother, and 1 younger half-sister).

Nice read, but be prepared to spend a lot of time. The book is THICK, the story is LONG! I probably spent about a month to finish it. Yeah I know.. I’m slow.

~ Finished on 05 February 2007

4 stars

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