Thursday 21 April 2016

Book Review: My Story by Elizabeth Smart

On June 5, 2002, fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart, the daughter of a close-knit Mormon family, was taken from her home in the middle of the night by religious fanatic, Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. She was kept chained, dressed in disguise, repeatedly raped, and told she and her family would be killed if she tried to escape. After her rescue on March 12, 2003, she rejoined her family and worked to pick up the pieces of her life.

Now for the first time, in her memoir, My Story, she tells of the constant fear she endured every hour, her courageous determination to maintain hope, and how she devised a plan to manipulate her captors and convinced them to return to Utah, where she was rescued minutes after arriving. Smart explains how her faith helped her stay sane in the midst of a nightmare and how she found the strength to confront her captors at their trial and see that justice was served.

I read My Story as part of the Nonfiction Reading Challenge. I remember reading about Elizabeth's abduction in the news all those years ago and being horrifed that a young girl could be snatched from the safety of her own bedroom. I was happy when Elizabeth was rescued, but her story eventually faded from my mind. I wasn't aware she'd written a memoir. As soon as I came across My Story while searching online for nonfiction books for this challenge, I knew I had to read it.  

Elizabeth is an inspirational woman. I'm fascinated by the way in which Elizabeth has overcome her abduction and gone on to live a happy and productive life. Her faith in God has helped her of course, but she also talks about being grateful for everything and acknowledging that even when things are bad there are still many things in life to be thankful for. She also says she knows things could always be worse, so make the most of your life. That's very brave; I'm sure a lot of us would want to drown in the sorrow instead.

What struck me the most while reading this memoir, was just how ridiculous Mitchell's reasoning was for having abducted Elizabeth. The Smart family are a good Christian family who offered to help a homeless Mitchell by giving him odd jobs to do at their house. That's how he came to know where Elizabeth's bedroom was and how he could get in to the house to kidnap her. I found it awful that good people who see their faith as important, who want to help their fellow man, were subjected to such a betrayal of trust. To take a young girl from her home, to rape and torture her for months is as evil an act as there ever was. Such an ungodly thing to do. And Mitchell did it all in the name of religion! This makes me so angry on behalf of the Smart family, and reminds me again what a phenomenal woman Elizabeth is that she has been able to move past this horrific tragedy with her faith still intact.

Reading My Story, it was clear to me from the outset just how much courage Elizabeth possessed. At only fourteen years old she recognised that she needed to get along with her captors, to make them think she wasn't going to fight them, or try to escape. She knew to try to get them to like her, so they might come to trust her. That's a heroic mindset to have under such harrowing circumstances and it's an incredibly brave thing to decide - to attempt to be nice to your rapist so you might eventually find a way to manipulate them. Elizabeth silently fought her way to freedom.   

As hard as it is to read about everything Elizabeth had to endure, I found this book to be overall a positive one. This memoir is life-affirming because even through months of torture Elizabeth kept her strength, kept hoping, and in the end she was rescued. She knows how miraculous that is, and that it's something to be thankful for. She talks about it being only nine months of her life that were awful - she's had plenty more months that have been filled with joy and love. What a courageous woman she is!

Elizabeth has allowed her experience to empower her. She uses her knowledge of being an abductee to help others. This is a significant and brave thing to do - to use your tragedy to help others, to change the world, to turn an horrific negative into a positive force in the world. That's remarkable.    


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