During the last year, I have gotten involved with helping authors launch their books onto the market. It’s a lot of fun to get chapters and even whole books to sample, and the best part is the wonderful people I have met through this work. One of these women, Anna, has an incredible life story, and I was honored to hear her tell her tale at a retreat this fall.
Anna grew up in a violent polygamist cult. Her father and uncle were leaders of the group, and she grew up surrounded by her mother’s sister-wives and over 50 siblings. Anna escaped the cult as a teenager, and for years she has been healing and telling her dramatic tale. She’s writing a book about her experience, and hopefully I’ll be helping to launch that one very soon!
Through her research, Anna discovered a cousin who grew up in the same compound and who also escaped and wrote her story. That book, The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner, was due to come out soon, so Anna put us to work helping Ruth launch her book. Bloggers in the group were offered first dibs on the advanced copies of the book, but I hesitated. My blog, as you know, is specifically geared toward the cause of global hunger. But Anna shared with me that hunger is actually a big part of their story. So I ordered a copy, waited impatiently for the release day, and devoured it in two days (and it only took that long because I had to work!).
Ruth’s memoir is beautifully written. She paints a vivid picture of her life growing up in a little shack in a cult compound in Mexico. She faced a lot of uncertainty, years of abuse, and devastating losses, yet she looks back and remembers the good times as well as the bad. As evidenced by the powerful title, The Sound of Gravel is rich with sensory language. Ruth’s love for her siblings and her mother radiate off every page.
And Anna was right, hunger is a very present character in Ruth’s story. Several of her siblings suffered mental disabilities probably linked to the malnutrition they faced as babies and young children. Ruth relates the shame she felt using food stamps to buy groceries for her siblings, and the challenges she faced as a child caring for her younger siblings and trying to make them something filling to eat. There are a lot of rice and beans dinners in Ruth’s story, and vivid memories of cornbread and cakes whose rarity made their appearance memorable.
Ruth’s story reminds us that although poverty can be caused by bad choices, it is often the innocent children who suffer the most. Adults can handle periods of scant provisions, but the physical and emotional damage done to a growing child can last a lifetime. If you want to read a beautiful story of one girl’s struggles and overcoming, I highly recommend this book. It reads like a novel while exposing great truths about polygamy, poverty, and the triumph of the human spirit.