Confession: I picked The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron because it ticked a bunch of categories for my various reading challenges. Not sure how I acquired it in the first place…
LeBaron recounts her childhood and early adult experiences as the child of Ervil LeBaron, the leader of a polygamous Mormon fundamentalist group. Ervil LeBaron was imprisoned for life after being found guilty of ordering the murder of his opponents (and died in jail). Murders aside, he was also responsible for orchestrating marriages, many of which included underage girls – this is explored extensively in the book, as Anna and her siblings were moved from house to house, and girls that she knew as ‘sisters’, suddenly became ‘wives’.
LeBaron spent the majority of her childhood in Mexico, without her mother. The church members were constantly on the run from authorities, and Anna was frequently separated from her mother and siblings. She describes a life of poverty, inconsistent schooling, and an absence of care and love. The final part of the memoir focuses on her return to America, the capture of her father, and the murder of many church and family members.
The memoir had great potential but the focus seemed misplaced – or perhaps I’m the wrong audience. I was expecting more about life inside Anna’s religion but instead got a chronological account of moving between houses and schools. There’s reference to the pain over lack of contact with her mother and not knowing her father at all (in fact, Anna did not meet her father until she was nine-years-old. The next significant encounter was after his death, when her sister showed her a letter their father had written with instructions on whom Anna was to marry. Anna’s reaction to this letter was ‘So he did know my name…’).
Toward the end of the book, Anna discusses her trauma. Again, great potential here but the emphasis was on the procedural (for example, she states that she sees a trauma therapist once a week), as opposed to the emotional experience.
Lastly, I had little sense of ‘what happened next’. I gather that Anna continued to live a religious life, and I know that she did the Oprah-et-al-circuit, but there were no real reflections or take-away messages on the impact of growing up with absent parents, and living without love and positive attention.
In the years that Anna lives in Mexico, the staple is refried beans.
As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (June 4): Belfast 14°-21° and Melbourne 8°-19°.