Online Edition: Fall 2005

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The Truth Book

Escaping a Childhood of Abuse Among Jehovah’s Witnesses

Joy Castro

Arcade Publishing ($25.00)

by Anne F. McCoy

You might be tempted to pass over The Truth Book because of its appearance. But in spite of the subtitle and the blood red dust jacket, this is not a sensationalized story. There are no clear-cut good guy/bad guy themes. Neither is this a work of exhaustive journalism about Jehovah’s Witnesses, although throughout the book Joy Castro gives clear, factual and fair explanations of beliefs and practices. Every person we meet is presented fairly, in all their humanness. While she is forthright about abuses which she experienced, Castro also introduces us to kind individuals and caring families, relating her own particular experience in spare and lyrical prose. At times it felt like poetry to me, as if there were a lot of white space on the page, although there isn’t. While there is this clean sense to the prose, the details are lush and specific.

The Truth Book’s compelling narrative is structured as a collage. The fluid boundaries and the moving about in time and place are occasionally disorienting, but it does serve the reader: Castro spares us from slogging chronologically through difficult details as told from a child’s perspective. Our narrator is the adult Castro, a woman in her mid-thirties whose gentle sensibility guides us throughout.

We meet Castro’s mother, former show girl turned Jehovah’s Witness, who is easily embarrassed by her children. After Castro’s first dance recital at age six, she told her daughter that she looked like an elephant on the stage. The attention of her father, a pilot who took her on adventures throughout Europe, counter-balanced her mother’s sarcasm somewhat, until his extramarital affairs led to a divorce.

In her mother’s second marriage to a man from the Jehovah’s Witness community, there existed a ready-made opportunity for abuse, as there is in any religion which teaches that the husband has the unquestioned right to rule his household however he wants. Castro’s stepfather subjected them to bizarre regulations and increasing isolation. He put locks on the refrigerator and kitchen cupboards. There were rules regarding portions at meals. If he had two sandwiches, her mother was permitted one, Castro one-half, her younger brother one-quarter. After two years of forced starvation, at the age of fourteen, Castro managed to escape.

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that because Jehovah loves the truth, people should always speak the truth. When she was young, the author found that this did not apply to every truth. In The Truth Book—which Castro wrote reluctantly, at the urging of those close to her—she finally bears witness to her experiences.

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