With television viewers gravitating to shows like TLC’s Sister Wives and Big Love, which ran on HBO from 2006-2011, Americans find polygamous cults fascinating. Peggy Riley’s debut novel, Amity & Sorrow, explores the lives of two young women who have known nothing but life in a polygamous cult.
All Amaranth wants is to do is to get away. Away from her husband. Away from the fire. Away from the life she has lived for so many years. Of course, Amaranth had a life before. She knows what it is to live in the world, even if she hasn’t done it for decades.
Her daughters, Amity and Sorrow, have never known anything but their father’s compound, the attention of many mothers, being surrounded by siblings.
The loneliness of being on the road with only each other and their mother is a completely novel experience for these girls who do not know how to read, or even what state they are from. They know nothing at all about the world around them.
Amaranth is so determined to get her daughters away from the life she once desired for them that she drives night and day in an attempt to get away from her husband, until she finally crashes their car in rural Oklahoma. Even life on a farm — where the girls and their mother take refuge on the porch of the farmhouse — is a culture shock for Amity and Sorrow.
Amity, at least, is curious about her surroundings and interested in learning about the wider world. For Sorrow, though, the only thing that matters is home and her father’s teachings. By shunning the outside world, Amaranth put her daughters in a dangerous position, and left them ill-equipped for anything other than what they had always known.
Amity & Sorrow is a powerful book about hope and redemption, as well as the perils of unquestioned belief and obedience. It is also a book that fascinate readers who are curious about the women living in fundamentalist polygamist cults.
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