Last year when I wrote The Jonestown Chronicles, or on trying to write a book a little shorter than the Bible for the jonestown report, I had an epilogue and a single chapter. I chuckle in faux amusement now. The first completed draft came in at 96,000 words. And it will doubtless take me 96,000 days to edit.
The book that was in my head and the book I meant to write dissolved in the acid rain of more research, and the sometimes soft and welcoming summer showers of some exceptional people who offered me their stories, their truths and, in a couple of rare treasured cases, their friendship. I wrote Jungle Rot, because it was the book I wanted to read. Raven, a book of undimmed brilliance, answered questions and left me with more, and these were the questions I wanted to explore. So yet another Jonestown story has been written and in the end that is all it is. A story one story my story.
You see, I have come to believe that each one of us who writes of Jonestown and its people – and we are becoming legion – will tell the truth to the best of our ability, and we will all fall short. I wrote my book filled with opinions and affections and hostilities. I’m not a survivor or the family member of any victims who died that day. While I began as an interested impartial observer, I soon realized no one who starts this journey remains only an observer. You learn quickly to embrace and recoil. I have done both, and my book has done this as well. Jonestown wasn’t just a church or an ideology or even a group of people. It was a minute-by-minute life- and mind-building and shattering experience. Many died a few lived and everyone who could tried to walk away and I think everyone failed, and I think I can speak for all of us who were not there but who write of it anyway. There is no way back from the road to Guyana.
(Kathleen McKenna lives and writes in New Mexico. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)