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Torn by God: A Family's Struggle with Polygamy: A Novel Paperback – January 6, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 287 pages
  • Publisher: H.O.T. Press (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0923178066
  • ISBN-13: 978-0923178062
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,768,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Zoe Murdock is an author and a teacher of fiction in Southern California. She is co-editor of the FictionWeek Literary Review, an on-line journal for innovative poetry and fiction. As a child, Zoe lived just down the road from Warren Jeffs (the infamous leader of the FLDS who is now serving a life sentence for the sexual assault of two minors. Find out more about Zoe Murdock at: You can read Zoe Murdock's Ms. Magazine article on FLDS leader, Warren Jeffs, trial and her thoughts about life in that little town of Granite, Utah where they both grew up. Click on the link below.

Customer Reviews

I was in the presence of ...God."
I wholeheartedly recommend this story-- no matter your religious bent.
Amazon Customer
"Torn by God" is a story of a family torn apart by fundamentalists.
Midwest Book Review

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By David R. Phillips on June 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Torn By God" touches on polygamy and the devastating effect it can have on families. The setting is the late 1950's and starts with a father searching for his own answers following a vision he had. He is carefully recruited into a group of polygamists and while he searches for his answers, his family struggles to stay alive. Described in a gripping way, the reader sees what it's like to live in a small, close-knit Mormon community that has no tolerance for a family like the Sterlings. The book touches on the LDS doctrine of excommunication, but doesn't delve deeply into Mormon dogma. It's not about polygamy; it's not about the LDS faith, but everything in the book surrounds it. It is the first book of this nature I have read, since my experience as an active Latter-day Saint is most books of this nature tend to tear down the LDS Church, or are written in a way to criticize the Church or its doctrine. I was ready to discard it should that happen, but surprisingly to me, I didn't find this to be the case in "Torn By God." I felt myself sympathizing with the Sterling family, who found themselves torn between loving their father, abiding his interest into a polygamist cult, and paying the price that comes from neighbors who are quick to judge. Couple this with the meager circumstances they find themselves living in as their father breaks promises and is lured away from home for a season. When you add to their disappointment, heartbreak and discouragement, the ever-present hypocritical attitudes of their pious neighbors, (many of whom are fellow church-goers), you find yourself thinking "There but for the grace of God go I." "Torn By God" is thought-evoking, and a real page-turner. It's a book you'll find yourself reading in one or two sittings!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Lawson on June 17, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this family drama, by Zoe Murdock, to be a well-written, emotionally driven novel, dealing with several meaningful themes. Part of the power of the story comes from how it is told through the eyes and mind of the family's twelve year-old daughter, Beth. She sees the events of the story unfold and has enough insight to have serious thoughts about what is taking place around her, yet, as a child, she is helpless in changing her father's mind, when he decides that God wants him to have the family return to the older Mormon traditions of Polygamy.

The skill with which this novel is written keeps us in suspense. Beth sees her mother grow seriously ill from the psychic pain she suffers due to her husband's desire to have multiple wives. Beth also sees the disturbing possibility that she could be taken out of school and forced to marry an unpleasant, sex-obsessed older man. Even her younger brother, Mickey, can sense a feeling of doom arising from the path his father is taking. Meanwhile, the father, Michael, caught up in his fanatic religious obsession, remains blind to the affect it is having on those around him. In spite of how bad it gets, Beth doesn't lose her sense of love for her family and the desire for things to return to normal. That feeling of love she has and tells her story with provides part of the human quality of the novel.

While the story had significance for me in terms of how it deals with polygamy, and I learned a lot about Mormonism, I think that Murdock provides insights beyond those themes. The story relates to fanaticism as it exists in any religion, a type of destructive fanaticism which we see so much of throughout the world today.

As seen by his daughter, Beth, Michael doesn't come across as a bad man, he is more a man with weaknesses.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Laurie Hope on July 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a timely and very human book. Murdock's attention to small details makes this a believable novel. I felt like I had a privileged view of a young girl's authentic and honest diary which helped paint a portrait of Mormon families caught between conflicting factions of their church.
Though handed a challenging family to grow up in, Beth (the 12 year old narrator) retains her openness and innate compassion and never becomes blaming or bitter - quite an accomplishment. Because of this, the book can serve as a wonderful jumping off point for further discussion that can help us understand the variety of psychological motivations that lead us to our worldviews. Because fundamentalism is inherently black and white, this book's compelling story brings us welcomed shades of gray.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Karen B. Williams on February 16, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Powerfully-narrated by 12-year-old Beth, "Torn by God" gives some valuable insight into the world of "free-style" Mormon polygamists such as those depicted on the popular HBO drama "Big Love." The novel explains the Mormon doctrine of Celestial Marriage more clearly than the HBO series, but in doing so, fills in some of the plot questions from the series, like, "why did Bill need three wives?"

Additionally, the novel answers some of thr questions about Mormon polygamy that help to explain the popularity of groups such as the FLDS, led most recently by federal criminal Warren Jeffs. I have read many accounts from those who have left the Short Creek community, but the explanations of the Law of Celestial Marriage and the Law of Consecration given in this novel provide a more clear foundation for understanding the beliefs and inner-workings of the group.

Told as a first-person account, this novel is an incredibly engaging story about the family and personal struggle for the main character, after her Mormon father believes that he has seen a spiritual vision leading the family back to the original rules governing polygamy as given to the Church by Joseph Smith. Beth must learn to become the rock upon which her family can lean when her father travels far away in his search for Truth, her mother becomes overcome with illness as a result of the trauma polygamy has brought to their family, and her young brother struggles to understand what is happening to his once-idyllic Mormon family.

This book was extremely well-written, a joy to read, and difficult to put down. I highly recommend it for those with an interest in religion, Mormonism, or family dramas.
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More About the Author

Like my Facebook Author Page:

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Read my article at Ms. Magazine about the Trial of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs:

Read my interview with Linda Marion at Continuum Magazine:

Review at Kindle Forum:

Read a blog entry on Torn by God at Letters from A Broad:

As with my novel, "Torn by God: A Family's Struggle with Polygamy," the focus in my writing has always been on the human mind. My most basic desire is to know how people come to believe what they believe and how those beliefs lead them to act in particular ways. Exploring the depths of another person's mind, with all its intellectual and visceral layers of complexity, is as exciting and stimulating as exploring a foreign country.

Given my fascination with mind, I search for books which have a unique and idiosyncratic voice. It is not the writer's voice I am looking for, but the voice of the characters who live out their lives on the pages. For me, "voice" is more than just a tone or narrative style: it reflects the movement and subtle nuance of a character's mind, it maps the associative leaps between one experience and the next, it connects the character's sensory experience with a unique perception. Maybe the best way to say it is that everything in such stories is characterization, to one degree or another. Books such as Jane Hamilton's, Book of Ruth, McCourt's Angela's Ashes, and Joyce Carol Oates', Because It Is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart, all have this quality that I so admire.

In my own stories, I try to achieve a high level of psychological realism, moving into the mental space of my characters, and settling in for the duration. Maintaining this kind or realism can be difficult at times. For example, when I was writing from the mind of my 12-year-old narrator in Torn by God, there were things I wanted to say that I couldn't say and still maintain the child's perspective. Still, I felt the innocence of the child narrator was important because it was indicative of the innocence of all the characters in the story. They are all controlled by the voice of their parents, by the voice of their religious leaders, by the voice of their God. So I let the girl see what she could see and let the deeper meaning lie beneath the surface, in the subtext where it belongs. It is there for my readers to find, if they can.

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