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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (April 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316220884
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316220880
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #827,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Author One-on-One: Peggy Riley and Lori Lansens

Lori LansensPeggy Riley

Lori: I experienced the story of Amity & Sorrow on a visceral level. It's beautifully written, poetic, but you also manage to create heart-hammering tension along with startling images, beginning with the sisters bound at the wrist by that "strip of white fabric." Your characters are bound to each other, and to their faith, and even to their land. Do you think it's possible to completely sever a tie with your past and the people in it and not feel somehow bound to it, even if it's by a sense of guilt or shame or regret?

Peggy: We are bound to our lives and our pasts, and it can feel like they are strapped to us, like there is no escape from all we have done and been. I wanted to play with that feeling of being bound by tethering the sisters to each other, as they are still tied to their church and family, the history of its making. Amaranth wants to take her daughters from a faith that has gone badly wrong, but their family was made in that faith. Amaranth talks about how far and fast she's had to run to try to break the threads that bind her to her husband, but she still feels haunted by the ghost of his judgment, even far away, and her own culpability. The more they all pull away from their past, the more they are reminded of it.

Lori: Amity and Sorrow are raised together in the same community of women but don't share the same fervor for their father, the leader, or for their faith. Is it because one feels more chosen than the other? Do people who join cults need to believe they've been chosen in order to feel validated?

Peggy: There are lots of reasons why people join cults, but most often they are looking for ways to connect and belong, authentically and passionately. Traditionally, cult leaders reward through access and punish through limitation. When followers receive special access and closeness to the leader, they feel more "special" than the others. Sorrow is raised to believe she is holy, that her work is necessary to her father and her faith. She cannot help but believe that she is chosen, while Amity is content to watch and wait. In the world outside their church, Sorrow is unable to give up her status, the power that being chosen gives her, while Amity revels in a land that hasn't already made up its mind about her.

Lori: How important was the setting? Did you want to distance the story from California in order to not confuse your cult with any other cults, past or existing?

Peggy: The story itself came from a picture I saw in a newspaper, of a wooden church on a grassy prairie, on fire. I knew the church itself would have to be built on land that was off the grid and far from the government. I'm from California myself, and I was inspired by all the California cults that I grew up with. California cults thrive in the cities, where displaced people come in search of new families and a guru. The preacher in my church travels to cities, to find these displaced people, then brings them back to his isolated place, land it would be hard to leave both physically and emotionally. Even now, shop-front churches and guru-led groups continue to spring up in California's cities, attracting the attention of authorities, while throughout America new faiths and communities grow in secret.

Lori: Amaranth, the mother, is such a strong character on the page and moved me with her actions and gestures. Did you have inspiration for the character? Did you read other stories of women who've left cults or faith-based polygamist communities? If so, was there often a defining moment when most of the women decided to leave?

Peggy: I read and watched survivor and escapee stories and was struck by how hard the women work at staying, how they twist themselves in knots to make sense of their faiths and marriages. They are, most often, genuinely in love with their husbands, men who courted them and told them they were special. In polygamous faiths, women are encouraged to view one another as family, as sister wives, but also believe that each is her husband's favorite, that each has a special role. But it is a hard life. Once there are children--and they come soon--the women find it much harder to leave. It is nearly impossible for a woman to get away without the other wives knowing, for they don't want any wife to escape. Amaranth thinks that her doubts in the faith of her husband come from her own inability to believe. She makes herself stay out of love, and it takes a long time for her to see that their faith has turned to something else, something darker. She has to leave, at last, to save her daughters, if not herself.

Lori: The women in the cult potentially gain as much as they lose from making the choice for polygamy, but it's not likely that such a model would ever become a cultural norm in the United States. Do you think North Americans reject polygamy for its suggestion of antifeminism?

Peggy: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints split over the issue of polygamy and statehood as nineteenth century popular opinion equated polygamy with slavery, and the practice stood in the way of Utah's becoming a state. Since the split, fundamentalist Mormons continue to practice, and the vision of the Mormon pioneers pushing handcarts to the West, wives grouped around their husband, is embedded in our history. It is said it was a way to deal with surplus women, but that was a myth as there were far more men than women in the West. Polygamy was a tenet of faith in the early Mormon church, and remains so for FLDS members, but it is hard for modern women to look at these marriages and believe that they are genuine or that the women get as much out of the arrangement as the men. What the men get out of it is obvious, but it is actually the faith that gains the most: a surplus of wives means more children can be had more quickly and so grow the faith. The spacecraft Pioneer bore a metal plaque etched with a picture of humans, one man and one wife, America's default position and ideal. I don't think feminists should mind polygamy in faiths so much: if the women say they love their sister wives, are adults, and consent to the marriages, it is no one's business. What I mind is that, on the Pioneer plaque, the man's hand is raised in greeting and the woman's hands are at her sides; the man looks forward and the woman gazes down, slightly angled toward the man. Even aliens, upon finding it, will understand our gender imbalance by the messages we send them.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In this accomplished, harrowing debut, Amaranth flees her polygamist community with her two teenage daughters, Amity and Sorrow, only to crash her car four days later in the Oklahoma panhandle. Chapters alternate between the present and the past, which reveals communal life with 50 wives (Amaranth is the first) and their husband, Zachariah. Here, arbitrary rules are made in the name of God, and women are given skills for Armageddon and taught to embrace the end of the world. Two events precipitate the flight: a fire in the temple and the discovery that Zachariah has been molesting his daughter, Sorrow, convincing her he is God and that, together, they can make Jesus. In the present, Amaranth comes to view farmer Bradley, owner of the farm where they crashed, as a chance to start over, but damaged Sorrow, who reads oracles in a blue pottery shard, remains steadfastly tied to her beliefs and community. Twelve-year-old Amity, meanwhile, hopes to heal her older sister. Award-winning playwright Riley’s descriptive prose is rich in metaphor, and each of her three nuanced main characters are bound in different ways to the overarching theme of the novel: all journeys are made in faith. Owing a debt of gratitude to Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which Riley acknowledges, this story is slow to build, but the haunting literary drama simmers to a boil as it deftly navigates issues of family, faith, community, and redemption. --Ann Kelley

More About the Author

Peggy Riley is a writer and playwright. She recently won a Highly Commended prize in the 2011 Bridport Prize. Her short fiction has been broadcast on BBC Radio and has been published in "New Short Stories 4", Mslexia Magazine, and as an app on Ether Books. Her plays have been commissioned and produced off-West End, regionally and on tour. She has been a festival producer, a bookseller, and writer-in-residence at a young offender's prison. Originally from Los Angeles, Peggy now lives on the North Kent coast in Britain. She is currently working on her second novel, which will be set in the women's internment camp on the Isle of Man during WWII.

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Customer Reviews

It is very well written.
Marilyn Armstrong
It seemed to drag a bit and didn't really get anywhere.
Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book to anyone.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Lincs Reader on March 29, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Although Amity & Sorrow is a fairly short novel at just 284 pages in the advance paperback edition, it is an intense and at times very difficult story to read. The subject matter is quite harrowing, and a subject that is rarely touched upon in fiction, and the writing is quite unique and distinct - it takes a little while to get used to the style.

Amaranth and her two daughters; Amity and Sorrow are fleeing their home, they have driven across country for four days and the only reason that they have stopped is because Amaranth has crashed the car. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, not knowing where they are, or where to go, they are discovered by Brad - a farmer who seems unconcerned by their plight, doesn't comment on their strange dress and allows them to camp out on his land.

Amaranth cannot let go of her memories and despite the fact that she knows that she had to flee, her thoughts return time and time again to her husband; the father of her girls. Amaranth is his first wife, the first of his 50 wives and she was instrumental in establishing the cult that they have left behind. Amity and Sorrow have no idea what it is like to speak with ordinary people, to allow anyone to see their hair, to walk through a field. They have no conception of what is acceptable behaviour in the real world. All they have known is life as part of a huge family, with rules, with terror, with abuse.

Amity relishes this new world, but Sorrow wants nothing more than to return to her father and their old life.

A lot of this story is told in 'flash back' form - when Amaranth remembers their life and how they were treated. The reader has quite a lot of reading between the lines to do - as events emerge slowly and are often hinted at, rather than explained fully.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Marilyn Armstrong on April 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Given the nature of the material, I was not expecting a light little tale of joy and contentment. The publisher's description doesn't really give you a sense of how extremely dark the first chapters of the book are, nor how awful the circumstances from which this little family is trying to escape truly have been.

Amity and Sorrow are the names of the two daughters, the young girls Amaranth is trying to rescue from a particularly sordid religious cult involving emotional and sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of women and children, terror and bondage.

The first few chapters of the book are so grim I almost stopped reading because I was finding it more than a little stomach turning. I have trouble ... a lot of trouble ... dealing with pain and abuse of any living creature. But it's worse dealing with children and animals. Amity and Sorrow are children and the degree to which they have both been horribly abused is never entirely laid out, but is certainly inferred with sufficient detail to make one feel that more detail would be over the top.

Just as I was about to close the book, it started to go in another direction, to a kind of redemption and restoration of light where there has previously been only darkness and fear.

It is very well written. For a first novel, it's quite extraordinary. It would be exceptional even if it were the 20th novel, but what can only imagine what this author may produce in the future. The description is paralyzing in its ability to evoke raw emotion in the reader.

This is not a book for children. It's also not a book for anyone who wants to keep his or her reading light. But, if you like to occasionally venture over to the dark side, visit the depths of depravity of which people are capable, try Amity & Sorrow.
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Format: Paperback
Peggy Riley's Amity and Sorrow is a unique look, not into the life of polygamy but rather into the lasting impact of a life spent living within a cult-like environment. It explores what happens when such a life is forcibly taken away from its followers and how they do - or do not - adjust to their sudden new life. For those living such a life and fully immersed in the belief system and culture, the abrupt departure from such a life can be as traumatic as anything, and it is this trauma that drives a majority of the plot.

Amity and Sorrow are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to acceptance of this life away from their family compound, and their reactions to their new-found freedoms are as opposing as their names. While the lack of familiar rules is disconcerting, Amity soon adapts and begins to test her new environment. Sorrow, however, wants nothing to do with this new life and aches to be back with her father and all that is familiar. While each of their reactions is understandable, given the fact that they were both born on the compound and know no other way of life, it is difficult for a reader to discern which girl is the more tragic. Sorrow is uncompromising in her abhorrence of life outside the compound and refuses to succumb to any of its lack of rules. Given what is revealed about life on the compound and her particularly uncomfortable relationship with her father, Sorrow's exhibition of Stockholm Syndrome is upsetting but understandable. Amity does like what she finds and does begin to make the adjustment to her new life, but there is something terrible in the rules she cannot find the strength to break. Her inner conflict between old and new is every bit as heart-wrenching as Sorrow's complete faith in the old, if not more so.
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