Almost thirty years after Witness used the Amish to counterpoint the corruption and cynicism of US life, Peggy Riley brings us an uncomfortable insight into the lives of the young Amish.
Despite recent reality TV series, this is the first time we get a real and thoughtful view of how it feels to grow up in such an inward looking community. This time, mainstream USA is the escape, the relief from the sexual pressures and dark secrets of what appears so sincere and idyllic.
Perhaps predictably, love conquers all. Nevertheless, this an interesting and refreshing take on a fascinating community.
on 20 April 2013
Whilst I enjoyed this debut novel by Peggy Riley and can see the similarities that have been made regarding it being like The Witness meets the Lovely Bones, I was left wanting more. I rated it 7/10 so on Amazon it gets a 3 star.
It's hard writing a review without giving out too many spoilers. The Author handles the subject matter well despite it being deep at times and I found the writing quite engaging once you'd got into the writing style. It moves seamlessly between the present and the past revealing a little more about the past life of Amity and Sorrow and their Mother Amaranth.
As we meet Amity, Sorrow and Amaranth they have fled a very unusual life as members of a cult that was formed by their Father, Amaranth's husband. Events have taken place that we learn about as the story evolves that have forced them to flee. Will the two sisters cope with life outside the Cult as they haven't known anything else.
I liked the way the story developed and the relationships between the characters. My only criticism was that I thought the story ended rather abruptly and had to read the last chapter or so again to see if I'd missed something.
I think this story would make a great Reading Group read and there's so much that can be discussed in it.
I will look out for further books by this writer. I would like to thank Netgalley for sending me this to review.
Amity and sorrow was not for me. God, cults, farming.... No thanks. But then Peggy Riley, the author, came to our book club and convinced me to give it a go.
The book follows Amaranth (Amy) who is mother to Amity and Sorrow. They have escaped a cult and this is their story. It goes back in time, to their past and then looks at the present day and how they will cope without the security of their extended family.
Reading some of the other reviews I was expecting this to be uncomfortable reading... If only it was! This was quite possibly the dullest book I've ever read and it really shouldn't have been considering the subject matter. It all felt very flat and rushed. I just couldn't imagine any of it happening.
I also found myself confused at times and not at all sure what was happening. I couldn't warm to any of the characters really but Sorrow was so irritating. I just wanted to give her a slap!
Sadly, I really didn't enjoy this but not for obvious reasons. I really liked Peggy but this fell short of my expectations.
'Amity & Sorrow' is a fascinating novel featuring a family (sisters called Amity and Sorrow, and their mother, Amaranth) on the run from an abusive religious cult run by their father/husband. They crash their car and end up staying with a lonely farmer, from here the plot concerns how they all adapt to the outside world, and whether or not the cult leader, The Oracle, will catch up with them. The characters were well drawn and the plot interesting, I did find the ending somewhat unsatisfactory but overall I enjoyed the book very much.
on 7 June 2013
I still cannot make my mind up about this book. It tells the story of a mother escaping from a religious sect with her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow. The book was quite disturbing in that the eldest daughter though a victim of incest wanted to return to her father. I hate reviews that tell the whole story so thats it about the story. Sometimes I felt this book was repetitive and felt like giving up but other times I couldnt put it down. I was glad in the end I stuck with it as I really started to enjoy it.
Amity and Sorrow is one of those novels where you immediately form a bond with the characters. You are dropped straight in to the action, witnessing a car crash involving a mother who has been driving for 4 days to escape from her home and her husband, and with her are her young teen daughters, Amity and Sorrow. As the story evolves we quickly see why there is a urgency for the escape. Amaranth has been part of a polygamous cult, led by her husband who brings to their marriage another 49 women. Her daughters have been immersed within the cult's doctrines and have no understanding of the outside world. Terrified that her husband might find them, Amaranth finds a place of safety in the hands of an unlikely hero, a farmer whose wife has deserted him and his drought ridden farm.
Through a narrative which moves fluidly back and forth between the present and the past we soon discover how life in a religious commune, cut off from the rest of the world isn't as 'heavenly' as the cult would have you believe and we see the psychological damage on each of the women.
For quite a short novel Amity and Sorrow packs quite a punch and can be a harrowing and unsettling read at times, and yet it draws you along at an easy pace. There is a subtlety in Peggy Riley's writing style and by seeing the world through each of the main characters eyes it helps the reader to form a relationship with Amaranth, Amity and Sorrow. Well worth trying especially if you loved The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff.
on 28 January 2014
I don't know about not judging a book by its cover but I certainly wish I hadn't been so influenced by this particular book cover which was the thing (followed by several positive blog reviews) that initially attracted me.
A novel about what happens when a mother, Amaranth, (one of no less than 50 wives) and her two daughters (Amity, 12, and Sorrow, 14) escape a polygamous cult. I was hoping for a good, possibly insightful, read into a lifestyle that fascinates me. Instead of which I got this dull read which was anything but.
With a story line that jumped from the present day which saw the women living on a rural farm to the past which told of their lives as one of a multitude of women/siblings living on what can only be described as a compound. Thank goodness the chapter headings differentiated between the two making a confusing read slightly less so.
Combined with the fact that as the story progresses Sorrow's story becomes one of less depth and one of what I felt was mere sensationalism and the author's awful tendency to pose a conundrum (how did Amaranth come to be caught up in the cult? Just who did set fire to the 'temple'?) only to defer the 'answer' until it is a distant memory that I had long since lost any real interest in or her even worse habit of beginning to explore an issue without ever running with it I ultimately found Amity and Sorrow a frustrating read with little to recommend it.
Copyright: Tracy Terry @ Pen and Paper.
on 3 October 2013
On a remote farm, a car crash leaves Amaranth and her two teenage daughters, Amity and Sorrow stranded and at the mercy of strangers. Fleeing a polygamous religious cult, they are completely ill-equipped to deal with modern life. Over the course of the novel, the attempts of the three women to reconcile their past with their present throw their beliefs and their identities into question. Having lived their whole lives in the isolation of their community, Amity and Sorrow initially rail against their new situation. But while Amity begins to adapt, Sorrow fights to get back to the only place she's ever called home, with devastating consequences.
This book tackles some interesting and hard-hitting themes. From the start, it's obvious that Sorrow's relationship with her father is more than it seems, and some of the scenes are quite disturbing. More disturbing though is the total and unrelenting religious zeal demonstrated by Sorrow. While her younger sister Amity is more open to change and to the outside world, Sorrow remains completely and utterly certain that her God is the only God, that the cult's way of life is the only true way and that she alone is the Oracle that can act as God's vessel on earth. She never sways from her convictions and often resorts to extreme and violent measures in order to get what she wants. In short, she's completely unlikable and irredeemable.
The novel is set almost entirely in remote country locations, where there's plenty of space, theoretically and literally, for the three main characters to work through their various issues away from the rest of the world. The farmer, his elderly father and their farm hand act as a strong reminder of the alternative to the women's former lives and constantly force them question everything about themselves. For me, there was one main question that this novel posed. Is a child that's been brought up in a certain way really responsible for their actions? Or does the fault lie with the parent?
The flashback scenes where we find out how Amaranth found herself as one of fifty wives, which are set in the city and in the modern world, are a stark contrast to the rest of the novel. It demonstrates how easy it is to slip it is for vulnerable women like Amaranth to find themselves in situations that they never expected to be in.
This is a great book with plenty of points to discuss in book groups and I definitely can see why it made the short list for prizes. But despite the strength of the characters and the skill with which Peggy Riley builds the layers of drama throughout the novel, I didn't feel much of a connection to any of the central characters. In my opinion, it almost works better as a literary examination on the effects of religious cults than it did as a story on a basic level.
I had high expectations for 'Amity and Sorrow'. Expectations that, sadly, weren't met. I have exactly the same reservations about Claire Tiffany's Everyman's Guide to Scientific Living, so clearly 'troubled relationships that take place on farms' is a genre I should avoid. Whilst there are obvious comparisons between the two, they differ markedly in one important respect. In Tiffany's novel, it is science that lays her characters low. In contrast, Riley uses that dastardly enemy of many a novel, religion.
The novel opens with a car accident. A lady and her two children crash into a tree. They are on the run. It soon becomes clear they are not entirely normal; refugees from a bygone era. Members of a religious cult, Amarantha and her two girls, Amity and Sorrow, have only recently arrived in the real world. They were members of an isolated cult, by their dress, possibly Amish. The cult is polygamous; so no, not Amish then. Mormons? The cult is, in fact, entirely fictitious, made up from little bits of cult folklore. It's a believable cabal. Something has now gone terribly wrong.
The novel opens with Sorrow having a miscarriage, and from the outset the question of the baby's parentage gives the reader a sense of unease. The three women are helped by a farmer, whose land they were on when they crashed. He is on the breadline. His farm struggling to make ends meet as he desperately tries to grow the latest money making cash-crop. The town he lives in is dying, cut off from civilisation by the freeway.
The novel is nicely set up. The three female characters are placed opposite three men. The farmer, Bradley, his adopted son, Dust and Bradley's infirm father. Hanging over them is the spectre is Amarantha's husband. Will he follow and what will he do if he catches them?
Part of the problem for me, is that almost nothing happens that you don't expect. Given the set up outlined above, if I asked you to write three things that were going to happen, you'd almost certainly get them right. This is almost offset by some great characterisation. The men are all well-drawn. Believable, iron hard, but with a fragility that the girls can't help but test.
Amity and Sorrow have never been in the real world. Their world-view is entirely dominated by the dogma of their father. The relationship between the two girls is well portrayed; sibling rivalry played out in spades. Sorrow is the older sister and she had the dubious pleasure of being her father's chosen one. The Oracle for their community. The girls father has taken religious parallels to extremes, but despite his sickening attentions, Amity can't help but feel inferior to her big sister. The two sisters then vie for the attentions of the only eligible male in the novel, Dust, with predictable consequences.
The difference in their understanding of the the world is also interestingly handled. Amity is younger, so her comprehension of their predicament is diminished on one level, but without her sister's extra years of brainwashing, she is more able to see the realities of their situation. Her road to recovery is faster than that of her sister's. Sorrow's psyche is so deeply in the mire, she can do little other than adhere to her father's doctrine. It's a well-observed juxtaposition.
The relationship between Amarantha and Bradley, I found less interesting and no less predictable. Though touchingly handled, it didn't do very much for me. The best sections of the novel were the tentative steps taken by Amarantha and the girls at entering (re-entering in Amarantha's case) society. Television carries religious messages, but also wanton sin. Churches and religious groups in town, claim to be the one true path to salvation. How would this claim feel to someone who has only heard their own brand of religion and their path is the right one? It's an interesting device.
Ultimately, the showdown that has to happen, happens. Although its outcome is slightly unexpected, it didn't particularly stir me. Which I think sums up the novel. There are some great passages of writing, built around an interesting premise, but I didn't particularly empathise with Amity and Sorrow's fate. I'm can't put my finger on why I didn't engage with the story, after all, all the elements are there. Ultimately, I found Amity and Sorrow to be dry and rather flat, making its setting on the parched plains of Oklahoma, a trifle unfortunate. Disappointing.
Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley for me was a good read but at times it was proven to be uncomfortable reading. It was mainly based on one woman who along with her two daughters decides her life cannot continue the way it has been. As Amaranth takes her two daughters and flees from the only home they have ever known. She drives continuous for four days and nights until tiredness overcomes her and she wrecks the car. As we follow her new life in Oklahoma she also along with her daughters looks back at the life they have been living. They knew their life was different from other families but they thought they were happy being with the man which ruled every aspect of their lives. Even Amaranth thought there was nothing wrong with her being No.1 Wife not minding there were forty nine other wives sharing her husband, that same husband who regarded himself as the messiah who collected wives the same way other husbands collected cars or even baseball cards. She thought she was lucky as she lived in harmony with all these women and their children sharing the work of the children waiting on the end of the world coming as her husband predicted.
This was a book I did find interesting as it enlightened me to why these women believed what they were told by this one man who was worshipped like a God with his fifty wives doing what he commanded. But why did Amaranth turn against this life which she was supposed to love so much, she loved two people more than anything in this world and that was her two daughters, she wanted to save them from this life she loved so much as her eyes were opened to the evil of it. This is a story of a woman who finally opened her eyes to what was going on around her as she seen how life really should be. But it also shows what makes a man want to live a life like the one he surrounds himself with fifty wives. There is also one man named Bradley who will show Amaranth what being alive is really about she will turn to him in more ways than she ever could ever have imagined.
What makes this book so special was the fact that Peggy Riley shows the innocence of the women while living in ignorance of what their daily life entailed by obeying the one man. But she also showed how the leaders of the many cults preyed on the vulnerable especially those who really needed help and support rather than a controlling figure who knew how to prey on the weak especially those who had no one to offer them support.
Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley is a book which I would recommend to all readers of those who like their books based on subjects that are a bit more delicate, especially about lives we know exist but we really do not want to think about them existing. This is certainly one book which I know I will never forget reading.