- “Seductive Poison” by Deborah Layton
- Non-Fiction Memoir
- Read as an ebook.
- 5/5 stars
- Finished on February 26, 2014
Told by a former high-level member of the Peoples Temple and Jonestown survivor, Seductive Poison is the “truly unforgettable” (Kirkus Review) story of how one woman was seduced by one of the most notorious cults in recent memory and how she found her way back to sanity.
From Waco to Heaven’s Gate, the past decade has seen its share of cult tragedies. But none has been quite so dramatic or compelling as the Jonestown massacre of 1978, in which the Reverend Jim Jones and 913 of his disciples perished. Deborah Layton had been a member of the Peoples Temple for seven years when she departed for Jonestown, Guyana, the promised land nestled deep in the South American jungle. When she arrived, however, Layton saw that something was seriously wrong. Jones constantly spoke of a revolutionary mass suicide, and Layton knew only too well that he had enough control over the minds of the Jonestown residents to carry it out. But her pleas for help–and her sworn affidavit to the U.S. government–fell on skeptical ears. In this very personal account, Layton opens up the shadowy world of cults and shows how anyone can fall under their spell. Seductive Poison is both an unflinching historical document and a riveting story of intrigue, power, and murder.
So I have this thing about cults. Mostly that I’m obsessed with them, and while I knew the story of where “don’t drink the Kool Aid” came from (sort of) before I knew about Jonestown, I honestly had no idea the extent of it. I, like most people, seem to be addicted to Netflix documentaries, and I found some on Jonestown and decided to watch. I was entranced. This was after I watched a crap ton of documentaries on North Korea, so I was just in the right mind set I think. But, when I got “Going Clear” a book about Scientology, I decided to find books on Jonestown and I’m so glad that this is the one that I found.
“Seductive Poison” follows Deborah Layton, often referred to as Debbie in the book, and her journey through the People’s Temple. She joined fairly early on from what I could tell, and was really active right away. It became clear later in the book that Jim Jones took an interest in attractive young women and got them involved, mostly for his own sexual satisfaction. She ended up pretty high up in the Temple, was trusted with many secrets, which is maybe why I loved this book so much.
It starts off in a way that I could totally understand, she was drawn to the temple because of a charismatic leader, and a revolutionary new church, which made promises to give her a place to be radical. She joined after her brother joined, and even though Jim encouraged his wife to divorce him, that didn’t seem to warn Debbie. Don’t think I’m coming down on her, because I can completely understand how she was thinking, and saw everything at the time, but as a reader you absolutely start to know that things are amiss.
The entire time that you spend in Debbie’s brain is amazing. It truly is interesting to see how things went from what seemed totally normal, to more and more engrossing, and how this happened extremely gradually to where things just didn’t seem that crazy. One of the things that was extremely interesting to me was how Jim Jones brought in white people. He did this by talking extreme amounts about white privilege to the point that white people who could possibly pass as a minority, including Debbie, began to WISH and try to turn into a person of color. I’d never heard of a group where shaming the dominant group who came was there way of attracting that group. It was super interesting, and something that I’d never heard of working in my many Anti Racism/Anti Oppression/Multicultural trainings.
The book was really interesting, but not “harrowing” like I’d expected and been told it was. Until her escape. Oh my goodness her escape. I seriously felt like I was going to have a panic attack. I just wanted to scroll to the next page on my Kindle immediately because I had to know what was going to happen. That part was like a heart attack in two chapters. The way she wrote it made it truly feel like you were there, and all the backstory and the long discussions of before her trip to Jonestown set up the severity of what she was about to do. It was amazing, and it really made the book for me.
Overall, I did give this book five stars, because I found it all so interesting. There really weren’t any parts that I wanted to skip over, or that I wished was over. It was extremely well written, informative, and hungering for more information and books.
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