Daughters Of Zion
by Kim Taylor
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Daughters of Zion / 978-0-615-25701-3
This is the fourth biographical polygamy novel I've read this year - sixth, if I count "When Men Become Gods" and "Under the Banner of Heaven" - and I've come to realize that these polygamy novels come in two sorts of flavors. The first flavor, the "Escape" flavor, is seen in books like "Escape" and "Stolen Innocence", and tells the story of abused women fleeing from abusive polygamous marriages, often fearing for their safety, their lives, and their children. The second flavor, which I would tentatively call "Day in the Life", is seen in books like "Shattered Dreams" and now this "Daughters of Zion".
Unlike the "Escape" novels, the "Day in the Life" novels don't feature women fleeing from polygamy, but rather showcase women who may or may not be less happy than their monogamous counterparts going through their daily lives over the course of the narrator's natural life, or at least up until they signed a book deal. The end result is, frustratingly, a biography without direction or purpose, and a snapshot of hundreds of lives mired in depression without any sort of catharsis for the reader.
If these problems were evident in my "Shattered Dreams" review, they are legion in "Daughters of Zion". Here the narrator isn't even a polygamist herself (although that factoid is probably a spoiler, since the novel keeps up a cynical "will-she-won't-she" tone for most of the entire novel), so her story focuses instead on life as a teenager within a polygamous colony. As one reviewer noted, the format is like a particularly slow and dreamy diary, but not in a good way - the narrator dwells as least as much on the ecstasies of warm Mexican-bottled coke as she does on the details of the polygamous lifestyles around her. Since she only experiences polygamy second-hand through her sisters, she is never really able to convey the difficulties of polygamy as a system outside of the fact that a lot of the men exemplify the Platonic ideal of "dead-beat dad".
If anything, the 'best' thing I can say about "Daughters of Zion" is that it is the first polygamy novel to make me lose my faith in humanity. Not because of abusive men (who, surprisingly, are in short supply here, if you ignore the abusiveness of the complete neglect most of the men in this novel dish out), but because of the author's parents, who are supposed to be the 'nice', non-polygamous family model for the author. If I may be permitted to engage in some self-righteous and unhelpful venting for a moment, it's particularly frustrating to see the parents of this family continually pick up and move to worse and more remote locations in service of a cult that follows a religious ideal that they *don't even agree with*, almost as if they are driven by some sort of fear of not being completely impoverished. About the second half, when their daughters start marrying the cult leaders, the parents put up only the most token protests, and when their daughters start "disciplining" the grandchildren by *literally* suffocating babies to stop them from crying, the grandparents "interfere" by meekly and feebly verbally protesting - once! - that that particular behavior isn't appropriate. Do they call Child Protective Services or the police? Of course not. Oh, wait, they do - years and years later after their sainted daughter finally dies and they can then go tooth and nail after her husband. Of course, at this point, the children have been abused for years, but I suppose it's better this way - no record for their abusive mother to have to live with. Predictably, the author spends very little time on this aspect of her life, except as an afterthought - she's too busy talking about her boyfriends and romps on the beach.
Indeed, it is sort of telling that these stories of abuse are always a sort of after-thought to the author - we hear about every man she ever dated, whether or not it matters outside of that chapter, but the fact that her nieces and nephews are being physically and sexually abused *every day* is a little factoid tagged on to the last chapter - and then only because the author seems to be proud of the fact that she took the children in. You don't get a cookie for decent human behavior, and it seems startling that the author expects one. Really, this seems more like a "gossip book" devoted to detailing the fact that the author dated a cult leader as opposed to actually talking about the *actual* victims of this polygamist cult, but that's just my impression overall. Add to that the fact that the author never, ever stops talking about how "pretty" she is (She thinks she isn't, everyone else says she is. There, I just saved you from reading about a third of this book.), and the overall effect is just terribly...shallow.
Breathless punch-ups aside, "Daughters of Zion" actually isn't that interesting - maybe if you're particularly interested in learning about the daily life of the Ervil LeBaron sect of the FLDS, in which case I will admit you will be better off with "Daughters of Zion" than with its sister novel "Shattered Dreams" - which talks even less about the abuse of children, if that's possible, but does actual provide the point of view of an actual, you know, *polygamist*. If you're not just enthralled with the Ervil cult, there are much more informative, better paced polygamy novels available, of which I most recommend "Escape" or "Stolen Innocence".
~ Ana Mardoll
View all my reviews