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Holy Hell: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion, and Pure Madness Paperback – October 22, 2013

3.4 out of 5 stars 241 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Holy Hell is Gail Tredwell's captivating, inspiring, instructive story of why as a willing slave she endured her guru's cruelty, insults, hitting, kicking, and terrorizing for twenty years.
In spite of predictable retribution, Tredwell felt morally compelled to expose her guru's lies and her own complicity. Her brave, intelligent memoir is valuable for its depth and searing honesty--a gift to seekers vulnerable to similar widespread misconceptions about spirituality and the role of surrender."
--Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad, coauthors of The Guru Papers:  Masks of Authoritarian Power

"Writing through the wise lens of hindsight, Tredwell weaves into her fascinating story of liberation from the depths of a modern-day cult, the hidden dangers of blind faith. Her insights drawn from years of personal experience render this book invaluable for individuals considering, or perhaps unaware they are already on, such a path."
--Steven Hassan, author of Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs

About the Author

For two decades Gail Tredwell lived in India and served as the personal attendant to Amma, commonly known as "The Hugging Saint." At the end of 1999, she made her daring break from the organization. After years of recovery, she is ready to share the inside story of ashram life and her unique perspective of this famous woman.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Wattle Tree Press (October 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0989679403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0989679404
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (241 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I was connected with Amma and her movement from 1990 till 1994. So, when a friend told me Gayatri had written her memoirs, I was interested. I did some research on the web, found that Gayatri's real name was Gail Tredwell, and the title of the book "Holy Hell". Then I realized a battle for and against Amma has been started and read the contents of several websites and all the reviews on Amazon. I felt a little bit sad about it. Even though I haven't been connected with Amma's movement since 1994, I still have affectionate feelings for her. Because I couldn't form an opinion from the many comments I read I decided to purchase Gayatri's Book.

What I read was a very interesting and moving story from someone who spent twenty precious years of her life in the service of her guru. The book is well written, alive and, I think, sincere. Yet, as Gayatri said (p. vi) : "This memoir isn't the definitive account of Amma; it is my own remembrance."

Those who like short review may stop reading here.

I first met Amma on July 1990 and on March 1st 1991, I arrived at her ashram, near Vallikavu, to stay for three months. We were about twenty westerners staying there at the time and the only western male permanent resident was a German fellow, Marcus, who was the ashram gardener. There were also a few western brahmacharinis. The most loving was Sunithi who was in charge of accomodations, seva (I could never say "no" when she asked), dinner and free market. There were maybe thirty indian inmates including the elder brahmacharis. There were no skyscrapers, only the temple and several little buildings. Amma gave darshan in her small overcrowded hut everyday and Devi Bhava Darshan on thursday and sunday.
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I lived in Amma's US and Amritapuri ashrams for many years as a hard-working and sincere spiritual aspirant. I hold as a truth that integrity is the cornerstone to one's spiritual life. When I was in India about 2005, one time Amma was asked how her relatives became so wealthy. I had never heard about this before. I watched as Amma hemmed and hawed, and said something about her dad's fishing business. It registered to me that even Amma didn't believe what she was saying. But like a (stupid) dutiful aspirant, I didn't talk to anyone about this and proceeded with my intense schedule of spiritual practice.

After I returned to the States, someone hacked a devotee's email in Hawaii whom they must have thought was a Gail/Gayatri loyalist (there's a real insider/outsider mentality here). The hacker warned about "the subtly poisonous" ideas in the August 16, 2012 Rolling Stone article, so, of course I Googled the article and read it. In the article, G confirmed my suspicions about the relatives' wealth--that Amma shifted funds to her family which were intended to serve the poor. [I doubt many would protest for the family to receive remuneration after the ashram took over the family property, but that doesn't warrant deception and alleged fraud.]

An old-time Amma devotee, Kusuma, came out with a book a few months later in part to deny the accusations. I was acquainted with this woman, and thought I might be able to speak frankly with her about my concerns. She seemed very intelligent, hard-working, and sincere. She said (by email) she would be happy to receive my letter which detailed my thoughts about G's Rolling Stone article--I was present for a lot of the happenings (Nirmalamrita's death, G's departure, etc.).
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Before I read this book, I never heard of Gail Tredwell, but I have gone to see Amma a few times over the years so I had to read the book when I heard about it. I was shocked at what was written in the book. I mean, how can someone like Amma be accused of what was being said in the book?The violence and abuse was utterly disturbing, but given the knowledge of how women are treated in India, I certainly thought it was possible (and probable) that Gail experienced all of it. History is full of such experiences. Going to see Amma a few times myself, I could see the cultist feel and attitude. I could feel the desperation of people who came to see Amma, looking to her to end their suffering. I could feel how they were giving away their power to someone they THOUGHT and believed is Divine.

I enjoyed the beginning where Gail talks about how she came to India and her time before meeting Amma (I wish she would have written more about her past). I was shocked to read about the violence and abuse she experienced, as well as others, while she was at the ashram. I was so happy when she finally got enough courage to escape. No one should have to suffer what she did, especially at the hands of a spiritual "guru". So many gurus in the past have preyed upon innocent, naive people. it is really sad. There are very, very few gurus who deserve that title. A true guru does not lead with violence and manipulation.

I was very disturbed by the abuse and the control and deception by Amma and some of her close devotees, but I am glad I read the book to open my eyes to what is really going on.

I have read all the "reviews" on this book and it is quite interesting that almost all of the 1 star reviews are not reviews at all.
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