(Ed. note: This review is adapted from the author’s online review at amazon. Sylvia Marciniak’s complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. She may be reached at Sylviastel@aol.com.)
Julia Scheeres had already had her own experiences with a religious camp in the Dominican Republic which she described in her memoir, Jesus Land. In A Thousand Lives, she writes for those of us who need to further understand the tragedy that occurred in a similar community – Jonestown, Guyana – on November 18,1978.
For those of us who have spent years trying to figure out what happened, this author provides fresh insight from some of the survivors like Tommy Bogue. Five members of the Bogue family left with Leo Ryan on that catastrophic day, but his sister, Marilee Bogue stayed and died with the others. Marilee was a true believer and wouldn’t leave, even when given the opportunity.
Edith Roller, a loner by choice, an educated, cultured teacher who kept a daily diary of the events regarding Jonestown including her own fears and worries, is also profiled.
The author also tells us about Hyacinth Thrash, an elderly African American woman with a permanent limp. The only survivor who slept through it all, Thrash awoke on November 19 to the horrors of the Jonestown Massacre. She hadn’t attended the final White Night because she was too tired and frail to go, but her sister, Zipporah Edwards, had gone to the pavilion and never returned.
If anybody wants to read about Jonestown without being overwhelmed by details and information, this book provides a great overview and enlightenment about the people who lived and died.
Peoples Temple didn’t happen overnight. Many of that generation wanted change in their society. Peoples Temple offered an immediate family and friends along with health care services for its members. Drug addicts were rehabilitated long before clinics and centers were there to help them. Lonely senior citizens had companionship and friendship with others. Peoples Temple attracted people from all walks of life to its organization in making the world a better place. But it was led by a madman whose paranoia and megalomania extinguished the light of all the good that his Peoples Temple had done.
Julia Scheeres provides a sensitive overview of Jonestown beyond the horror of the last day, and I believe readers will be as fascinated by this book as I was. Recognizing that the author could not include the full breadth of her research, I do wish she had provided maps to familiarize the reader with the location of Guyana, a list of those who perished that day, and photographs of some of the people involved.
It’s time that everybody looked at Jonestown and the events of November 18, 1978, with light and education over ignorance and ridicule. This book represents a good start towards that goal.