Time for another 2013 TBR Pile Challenge book! Reading one per month has been working really well for me, and also for the Eclectic Reader Challenge.
I can’t remember when or where I got my copy of Under the Banner of Heaven. I’m pretty sure I purchased it, and I know I chose it because I had already read and loved Into the Wild and Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I am certain that I’ve had this book on my shelves since before I met my husband in 2006 and hadn’t read it yet… yikes!
Part exposé, part true crime, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith opens with the grisly 1984 murder of a young mother and her 15-month-old baby daughter at the hands of two of her brothers-in-law, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who were instructed by God to kill them. Krakauer investigates the murders and delves deep into the religion that the Laffertys follow, Mormonism—specifically Mormon Fundamentalism.
Another fascinating piece of investigative journalistic narrative from Jon Krakauer, this one in the vein of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, and a little bit like Erik Larsen’s books such as The Devil in the White City. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a fascinating religion with a rich and mysterious history, and Krakauer does an admirably meticulous job recounting details of important figureheads and key events since its founding. I found his writing to be observant, informative, and relatively free of subjectivism. I didn’t know much about Mormonism before reading Under the Banner of Heaven, and nothing about Mormon Fundamentalists or the other myriad sects, so this was a very illuminating book for me. I had only heard about Mormons when they came up in national news, like when occasionally women and children flee isolated community compounds and be interviewed later, Elizabeth Smart’s disappearance in 2002, and more recently Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012.
Krakauer weaves the story of the Lafferty family with that of the history of the religion throughout the book, so here and there the chapters felt a bit disjointed. Also, due to the polygamous practices of the Mormon Fundamentalists, there are so many people involved—family trees are enormous and convoluted—that sometimes it was cumbersome to keep track of everyone. Overall though, it was a worthwhile book and I learned a lot. I was outraged at the treatment of women and children—rapes, mental and physical abuse, indentured servitude, pedophilia, incest, and so on. The American history aspect is incredible, too—just how young the religion is and how far it’s expanded in just two short centuries.
Side note: when Nick and I were in New York City in April we wanted to see the South Park creators’ show The Book of Mormon on Broadway, but the tickets were too expensive. Shoot! Hopefully a touring company will come through Kansas City eventually.
Read from June 6 to 13, 2013.