book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: My review of Bringing Elizabeth Home…

Here’s a repost of an Epinions review I wrote in 2004. It appears here “as/is”. A whole lot has happened since 2004– to include Ed and Lois Smart’s divorce and Ed’s coming out as gay. I’m reposting the review for the sake of history, and because I think some people might find it interesting.

The first time I saw Ed and Lois Smart’s 2003 book Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, I was tempted to purchase it. Their beautiful fourteen year old daughter Elizabeth was kidnapped from their Salt Lake City, Utah home on June 5, 2002. The Smarts’ other daughter, nine year old Mary Katherine, witnessed the abduction and alerted Ed and Lois Smart after Elizabeth and the kidnappers, later revealed to be Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, were gone.

I remembered how the summer of 2002 was a summer plagued by a rash of child abductions. A couple of those abductions had ended tragically– five year old Samantha Runnion was killed soon after she was taken, but not before she was brutally molested by her captor. Elizabeth Smart had, against all odds, survived her abduction, reuniting with her family in mid March 2003. And Elizabeth Smart’s story is a bizarre one indeed. Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee were revealed to be believers of a fundamentalist branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. According to news reports, Brian David Mitchell meant to make Elizabeth one of his wives.

The Smart family fascinated me. On the front cover of Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope there is a lovely picture of Elizabeth and her parents, and on the back cover, the whole family of eight is pictured. The Smarts seem to espouse the epitome of the American Dream. Ed and Lois Smart are well off financially, and they have six beautiful children. I wanted to know what lingered beneath the surface of the Smart family’s attractive facade. Nevertheless, I had read negative reviews about Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, so I passed up the book.

Then last week, my husband went out of town for a meeting and I found myself with some extra time to do some reading. It wasn’t long before I found myself purchasing Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope. I finished the book in a few days and am left with my own feelings of ambivalence about the Smart story. On one hand, Ed and Lois Smart are not professional writers and they were telling the heartwrenching story of their daughter’s abduction. On the other hand, Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope was ghost written by Laura Morton, who, according to information on the book jacket, has written a total of eighteen books, six of which were New York Times bestsellers. Unfortunately, I would have expected more from someone who has had such an auspicious career in writing.

While at times, I found Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope to be a warm, touching story, the writing is sometimes awkward and repetitive. Also, although the book is supposed to be written entirely from the Smarts’ point of view, the authors don’t seem to be very selective about their usage of pronouns. For instance, the chapters that are supposedly written by Ed or Lois as individuals read like personal narratives and employ the pronoun “I”. In other chapters, “we” is used, but so is “Ed and Lois”, as if the story is being told from a different point of view. It makes for awkward reading.

This book doesn’t shed a lot of light on the case, either. Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope doesn’t offer many more details than what was already printed in the news or portrayed in the television movie that was made about Elizabeth and broadcasted last fall. There are, however, a couple of interesting chapters about Ed and Lois Smart’s extended family. There’s also a lot written about Elizabeth’s love for playing her harp. Mary Katherine also plays the harp. I don’t know of any kids who play harp, so it was interesting to read about that. The book also offers some very nice pictures of the family. Again, however, it seems like I had already seen some of them in magazines.

The thing I liked the least about Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope was the “preachy” tone in the book. Yes, I understand that the Smarts’ faith had a lot to do with keeping them sane while Elizabeth was missing, but the book, particularly at the beginning, is very heavy on quoting scriptures from the Book of Mormon and the D&C (Doctrine and Covenants), which is another LDS document. If readers aren’t members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, they might not understand some of the significance of the quotes.

Speaking of quotes, the Smarts start most chapters off with one, and they are generally from LDS sources– either the Book of Mormon, or the D&C, or perhaps from a well known LDS leader like church president Gordon B. Hinckley. Again, it seems to me that the Smarts might have forgotten that they might have readers who have no understanding of the LDS Church. On the other hand, the inclusion of the LDS quotes may have been by design– to get more people to investigate the church. All one has to do is contact LDS missionaries and they can start learning about the church and possibly become a member. In any case, it seems to me that some folks might find all the LDS stuff included in this book off putting, particularly if they don’t believe in God or going to church. That said, I will also mention that before I picked up Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, I figured I would be reading something about the Smarts’ faith, so this aspect of the book didn’t surprise me much.

The Smarts continually contend that they want to protect Elizabeth’s privacy, and I respect that. On the other hand, I do find it curious that they published Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, if they truly wanted to protect Elizabeth’s privacy. They write that they were hoping to put some of the false information to rest. It seems to me that the Smarts’ book is really more about how Ed and Lois Smart dealt with Elizabeth’s absence than Elizabeth’s ordeal, and to the Smarts’ credit, they do seem to convey that idea in the book. However, they had to know that people would buy this book expecting to read about what really happened to Elizabeth. The Smarts include a few details, but those who want to buy Bringing Elizabeth Home should realize that they won’t get the whole scoop.

I don’t think that Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope is a terrible book. It’s just that it doesn’t reveal that much more than what the public already knows about the Smart case. The writing is not as strong as it should be and there’s some preaching in this book that might turn some people off. Nevertheless, the Smart case is fascinating and if you want to know everything that’s out there about the Smart family, you might find reading this book worthwhile. On the whole, however, I think that most people would probably do well to skip it.

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book reviews, LDS, true crime

Repost: Elizabeth Smart’s My Story…

I wrote this post for my original blog on October 12, 2013. It includes the Epinions.com review of her book, My Story, which I posted on the same day. It appears here as/is.

I really hesitated before reading My Story, the book Elizabeth Smart wrote about her experiences being kidnapped by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee.  I have written a review, posted below.  This post is going to have less to do with the book and more to do with some things I realized while reading Smart’s book.

First off, Elizabeth Smart endured hell for nine months.  There’s no sugar coating it.  Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee put that girl through sheer hell.  When I think about what it must have been like for Elizabeth Smart to endure daily rapes, constant threats on hers and her family’s lives, the outdoor elements while wearing filthy rags, and, in fact, the very loss of her identity since Mitchell forced her to change her name, I am truly amazed that she has been able to recover as well as she apparently has.  I have some new respect for her.  She is certainly a strong and courageous woman.

Secondly, it occurred to me as I read her book that she was kidnapped at age 14, which is the age Helen Mar Kimball was when she “married” Joseph Smith.

I don’t know if that has to do with Brian David Mitchell’s decision to kidnap Elizabeth Smart when she was fourteen.  Certainly, at fourteen, Smart was still very much a child.  She was especially naive and sheltered and was, no doubt, easier to control than she might have been had she been older and more worldly.  Smart reveals that Mitchell planned to kidnap more girls and make them his wives.  Elizabeth Smart calls him a pedophile, but I think it’s more likely that he just wanted gullible, obedient, easily controlled girls who had not been defiled by anyone else. 

Certainly, it was easier for Barzee if Mitchell had younger girls around who didn’t compete for her place as the alpha bitch.  In any case, though, it did occur to me that Mitchell, who had proclaimed himself a “prophet”, was doing something very similar to what Joseph Smith did.  Yes, Joseph Smith did it many years ago.  Does it make it less wrong that he was fucking fourteen year old girls and “marrying” the wives of other men?  Why should anyone admire Joseph Smith on that basis alone?

Finally, once again, I couldn’t help but feel horrible for Elizabeth as she described feeling like a beautiful vase that was shattered.  I had read an account of a speech she had given some time ago about feeling like a “chewed up piece of gum”, in part because of an object lesson she had taken part in at church.  She was taught that no one would want her after a man had put his hands all over her.  As a fourteen year old girl, she certainly had no choice but to let Brian David Mitchell defile her.  Of course he overpowered her, though she is careful to point out that she did try to fight him off.  I’m sure that line was added for those who might fault her for not fighting harder to protect her virginity.  Anyone who would fault her for that, by the way, is an enormous asshole. 

In any case, Elizabeth Smart felt like a shattered vase or chewed up piece of gum after Mitchell forced her to “marry” him and then raped her.  She felt like she no longer had any value.  That rape took away her self-worth because she was taught that sex before marriage is filthy.  Certainly being raped can be described as filthy, but a person doesn’t lose their intrinsic value as a person because they have been raped or because they have had intercourse before marriage.  Plenty of good people have been raped.  Plenty of good people have had premarital sex.  What happened to Elizabeth Smart was not her fault.  It grieves me to think that even for a moment, she felt worthless because she was victimized.  I think many religious organizations need to do a better job instilling self worth in girls.  That goes for any restrictive faith that places a high premium on chastity and modesty.

One other thing I noticed in Smart’s book was her description of the food Mitchell would steal.  I have never been LDS, but I have read a lot of accounts of the type of foods many Mormons eat.  They seem to be big on casseroles, Spam, and Jello.  For instance, Utah is the world’s leader in green Jello consumption.  Here’s just one thread on RfM about odd cuisine.  Mitchell apparently was very fond of mayonnaise and would mix it with carrots and raisins.  Just the thought of that makes me want to retch.  And Elizabeth washed it down with warm water from a plastic canteen shared by her captors… when she wasn’t forced to drink cheap wine or beer or liquor… Or smoking cigarettes…  Yeah.  I can see why she’d want to forget that time in her life. 

To add insult to injury, when she was finally found, the cop handcuffed her before he took her to the police station.  Why he cuffed her, I don’t know.  It must have been procedure.  Maybe he thought she’d have some kind of Stockholm Syndrome and might bonk him on the head.  Poor Elizabeth.  That was just one more thing she never should have experienced.

Anyway, I think the book is worth reading if you want to read Elizabeth Smart’s perspective of the horrible experiences that made her famous.  It’s definitely gotten me to thinking.   

Below is my reposted review.

I really debated purchasing Elizabeth Smart’s 2013 book, My Story.  I have read other books written by crime victims and, generally speaking, have found that victimhood does not necessary make one a good writer.  But Smart had help writing this book from ghost writer, Chris Stewart, and having seen her in the media in the eleven years since she was abducted from her home in June 2002, I figured I might as well. 

I managed to read Smart’s account of her abduction and nine months in captivity at the hands of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee in one sitting.  The book is written in the first person, as if Elizabeth Smart is standing at a lectern relating her story.  She begins with the story of the first time she laid eyes on Brian David Mitchell.  It was a chilly day in November 2001 and Mitchell was on a Salt Lake City street begging.  Elizabeth Smart was out shopping with her mother and a couple of her siblings.  Smart’s mother, Lois, felt sorry for Mitchell.  She gave him five dollars and her husband’s cell phone number so that they might offer him work.  Elizabeth Smart explains that she made eye contact with Mitchell and gave him a slight smile.  She, too, felt sorry for him.  At that moment, Mitchell determined that Elizabeth Smart would be his “second wife”.

Many people already know what happened next.  On the night of June 5th, 2002, Mitchell broke into Smart’s home and awakened the sleeping fourteen year old by pressing a knife to her neck.  Smart, who had been sleeping next to her younger sister, Mary Katherine, silently got out of bed and, wearing nothing but her red satin pajamas and a pair of running shoes, left her home with Mitchell.  She was gone for nine months.

Smart explains that after being forced to “wed” and then repeatedly raped by Mitchell, she felt like a priceless vase that had suddenly been smashed to bits.  What do you do with a shattered vase?  You sweep up the pieces and throw it away.  Smart writes that Mitchell had defiled and demoralized her to the point at which she felt like her life was meaningless and no one would ever want her.  Smart writes that Barzee treated her like a slave and seemed to have no empathy whatsoever for Smart’s plight.  In fact, Smart writes more than once that Barzee had “given up” her six children so she could be with Mitchell.  I’m not sure that giving up access to one’s children automatically makes someone *bad*…  After all, in divorce situations, men are asked to do it all the time.  However, I definitely see how Elizabeth Smart made that determination about Wanda Barzee, under the circumstances.

Aside from the cruel treatment and neglect she received at the hands of her captors, Smart writes of the very uncomfortable living conditions she was forced to endure.  Mitchell and Barzee were derelicts who lived outside; consequently, Elizabeth Smart, who had grown up privileged and comfortable, found herself going days without eating, going thirsty, and wearing filthy clothes that were cast offs from other homeless people.  Mitchell also forced Smart to drink alcohol, smoke, and view pornography, activities that were strictly against Smart’s Mormon beliefs.

My thoughts

I had read Bringing Elizabeth Home, a book written by Ed and Lois Smart in 2004.  I wasn’t very impressed with that book because it was very sanitized and offered little information that wasn’t already in the news.  Moreover, it also included a lot of religious “preaching” related to the Smarts’ belief in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I was a little afraid that Elizabeth Smart’s book would contain more of the same, although I had read that the book was going to focus much more on what went on during her actual captivity.

My Story is, in fact, about what happened to Elizabeth Smart during those nine months she was away.  I have to admit, after reading this book, I have new respect for Elizabeth Smart.  Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee put her through hell.  Smart makes it clear that given a choice, she would certainly favor Barzee over Mitchell, whom she describes as a narcissistic pedophile who was unspeakably cruel to her. 

I finished this book in a couple of hours.  It’s printed in large type and written in a conversational style that includes a lot of sentence fragments which I think was supposed to be engaging.  Personally, I find one word sentences annoying.  I also noticed at least one instance in which Smart’s captor was referred to as David Brian Mitchell.  That’s not a big deal, but I did catch it.  There are no photos, not that I really expected Smart to have pictures from that time period.  This book is not nearly as graphic as it could be, which is certainly understandable.  For many readers, I’m sure the lack of graphic details will be a relief.   

Overall

I don’t think the writing in My Story is the stuff of Pulitzer Prizes, but it’s not bad.  The book was a quick read and doesn’t include a whole lot more information than what has been printed in the media already, though it does give Smart’s perspective more so than any news article could.  I admire Elizabeth Smart’s fortitude during that ordeal.  I think My Story is worth reading if you’re interested in what really happened to Elizabeth Smart.  The writing could be better, though.

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true crime

Repost: More on Josef Fritzl

This isn’t a book review; it’s more commentary on the Fritzl case. I wrote it in September 2014 and it appears here as/is. I’m adding it in case anyone’s interested in my specific thoughts about this case.

The other day, I posted a review of John Glatt’s true crime book, Secrets in the Cellar, a book about Austrian madman Josef Fritzl.  I started reading another book about Fritzl called I’m No Monster.  I think Glatt must have also read this book, which seems to be more comprehensive and original than Glatt’s book was.  I’m not quite finished with the book yet, so I’m not ready to review it.  I’m just writing about Josef Fritzl today because the more I read about him and his double life, the more creeped out I am. 

Here was a man who appeared to be completely normal and respectable on the outside, yet he had all these dark thoughts and bizarre desires.  What would drive a man who imprison his own daughter for twenty-four years in an underground cellar?  How could he live with himself, knowing that another human being was underground bearing his children all alone, deprived of sunlight, fresh air, medical attention, decent food, and social interactions with others?

I know Josef Fritzl is not a normal person.  He’s definitely narcissistic and almost certainly a sociopath.  He clearly saw his daughter, Elisabeth, and the children he made with her as objects that belonged to him.  While I can understand how the three kids who lived in the cellar with Elisabeth coped– they knew nothing else– how in the world did Elisabeth not lose her mind?

Even in prison, when prisoners go to “the hole”, they come out after a few weeks or months.  Elisabeth spent twenty-four years in an underground cellar, where she was subjected to constant rapes by her own father.  He tormented her with lies about how if she tried to escape, poisonous gases would kill her and her kids.  Or she would be instantly electrocuted.  He beat her and the kids, but then he’d also beaten Elisabeth’s mother, Rosemarie.

To me, Elisabeth endured a far worse ordeal than any prisoner.  It’s a testament to her strength that she was able to survive and not be completely crazy in the aftermath.  There she was in an underground cell designed by her father, right under the apartment block where he housed transients for years.  

And yet, to hear Fritzl explain himself, he did Elisabeth a favor and “saved” her from drugs by banishing her underground.  It’s terrifying to think about how believable and respectable this monster appeared to be.  It makes one wonder how many more people are like him in the world.  

I also wonder what it must have been like for Elisabeth to emerge from that prison after twenty-four years.  She missed out on her youth, sequestered in that hole with rats and other vermin.  How did it feel to have the warm glow of sunshine on her face and wind in her hair.  What was it like to breathe fresh air?  She had known all of these things before and had taught her children about them, but when they finally experienced it, it must have been like walking in space with no space suit.

What was it like for Elisabeth’s mother and siblings and the three kids she had that were allowed to grow up above ground?  I especially wonder how Rosemarie coped when she found out that her husband had been imprisoning and raping their daughter for so long.  It’s bad enough to be the spouse of someone who cheats with someone not in the family and doesn’t commit felonious acts in the process.  How could she deal with knowing her husband had been abusing their daughter, making babies with her, imprisoning her daughter and her grandchildren underground, and this had been going on for twenty-four years!  How did Rosemarie not lose her mind?

I’m sure that if Josef Fritzl had committed his atrocities in the United States and he was in a death penalty state, he’d have been executed by now.  While I’m no fan of the death penalty, I’m not sure I would feel sorry for him.  On the other hand, being incarcerated for the rest of his life might be the most fitting punishment for Josef Fritzl.  However, due to his advanced age when he was finally caught, it’s unlikely that he’ll be in prison for as long as he kept Elisabeth underground.  And his time behind bars is no doubt less traumatic as well.  He won’t be forced to give birth alone in the dark, cut the umbilical cords of his own children, or watch and worry helplessly when they get sick.  

Josef Fritzl evidently has no conscience anyway, so even if he were a mother of a sick child, it’s unlikely he’d do anything about it except to maintain his control over someone he saw as a possession.  Much like maintaining a vehicle or a household, he’d take care of those kids only out of obligation, because if they died on his watch, he’d cease to own them anymore.  It would represent a loss of power, not the loss of an emotional connection.

The more I read about this case, the more horrified I am by it.  At the same time, it’s morbidly fascinating.  Josef Fritzl evidently had an abusive mother who was sent to a concentration camp for refusing to accommodate authorities during World War II.  She was always a cold, abusive woman and came back from the camp even weirder and more abusive.  Josef never knew his real father and didn’t get to bond with his father figure, so he was influenced by his mother, who by all accounts was not a nice person.  While that’s no excuse for his behavior, it does go to show how important empathetic parents are to their children and how abuse can lead to the formation of monsters. 

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: Review of I’m No Monster: The Horrifying True Story of Josef Fritzl

Here’s another reposted review about Josef Fritzl. It was written in September 2014 and appears as/is.

If you’ve been reading this blog recently, you know I’ve been reading about Austria’s infamous Josef Fritzl, a man who imprisoned and raped his daughter, Elisabeth, in an underground cellar for 24 years.  Fritzl had seven children with his wife, Rosemarie, and seven more with Elisabeth, not including one that was miscarried.  Six of Elisabeth’s children are still living.  One of the seven, a twin to her son, Alexander, died just a few days after he was born in the cellar.  Three of Elisabeth’s children were raised above ground, while the two eldest, Kerstin and Stephan, and the youngest, Felix, stayed underground with their mother.

The first book I read about this case was Secrets in the Cellar by John Glatt.  I followed up with I’m No Monster, written by Stefanie Marsh and Bojan Pancevski.  Overall, I think I’m No Monster is the better book, although I did notice there were some typos and errors in it.  For one thing, the authors repeatedly refer to St. Poelten as St. Pollen.  I almost wonder if the word was “spell checked” as they wrote it and they never noticed it.  For another thing, there are some awkward sentence structures in the book that could have used editing.  The writing is also frequently somewhat repetitive.

The information presented within the book, however, is very interesting.  The authors go into more detail about Fritzl’s upbringing that Glatt omitted.  For example, I didn’t know that Josef Fritzl’s mother had spent time in a concentration camp for not housing German officials.  She had been a very cold and abusive woman before she went away, but was much worse when she came back.  Fritzl was supposedly beaten bloody by his mother until he finally got big enough to fight back.  He was left with emotional scars that supposedly drove him to violate his daughter.  He has been quoted as saying he was “born to rape” and having Elisabeth gave him someone to victimize, as sick as it is.  I didn’t get as much of a sense that the authors of I’m No Monster were injecting their own opinions about the case as much as Glatt did, although obviously neither book paints Fritzl in a positive light.   

The authors of I’m No Monster also write about the community of Amstetten, where this crime took place.  It is apparently a very straight-laced kind of town at a perfection junction between Germany and Italy.  It even sounds like the kind of place I might want to visit sometime.

Now that I’ve read two books on Josef Fritzl, I think it may be time to move on to another topic.  I hate to say I enjoy reading about true crime, though I do find the people involved in these cases fascinating.  Josef Fritzl is a liar and a narcissist.  According to this book, he wanted to be studied by the top psychologists and psychiatrists and was even working on his own memoirs…  As if being infamous gives him the right to become a celebrity of sorts.  Maybe reading books about Josef Fritzl is counterproductive in that sense, since it gives criminals notoriety that they don’t deserve.  For me, personally, reading these books offers a glimpse into the mindset of criminals.

Anyway, I would recommend I’m No Monster, though I do think it could have been better written.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: John Glatt’s Secrets in the Cellar– the horrible story of Josef Fritzl and his double life

Here’s a book review I wrote for my original blog in September 2014. It appears here as/is.

I remember being as shocked as everyone else was in April 2008, when the world became aware of 73 year old retired engineer, Josef Fritzl.  At the time, Bill and I were in the middle of our first time in Germany and I recognized St. Polten, the town where Fritzl was being jailed.  I visited the town by chance in August 1997, on my way home from my Peace Corps assignment in Armenia.  I remembered St. Polten as a charming place, not too far from Vienna.  Now it was in the news because of Josef Fritzl, rapist, kidnapper, and murderer. 

Josef Fritzl, an elderly man who had seemed so brilliant and respectable for most of his life, had just been outed as a monster who had held his daughter, Elisabeth, captive in an underground prison for twenty-four years.  Not only had Fritzl kidnapped his own daughter, he had also repeatedly raped and beaten her.  And he had also made eight children with her, one of whom was miscarried, one who died three days after birth, three who lived underground with Elisabeth, and the other three who were raised by him and his wife, Rosemarie.

Rosemarie, who had also borne seven children with Fritzl, was heartbroken on August 28, 1984, when her daughter Elisabeth went missing.  She was unaware that her husband had built an elaborate dungeon underground on their property in Amstetten, Austria, and that her daughter was underground being raped and tortured.  Fritzl forced Elisabeth to write a letter explaining that she had joined a religious cult and warning her parents not to try to find her.  And Rosemarie, who had always been a very passive soul that never questioned anyone, took Elisabeth at her word.  For some reason, it never occurred to her to question when three of Elisabeth’s seven babies were dropped at her doorstep with notes explaining that she couldn’t take care of them.

Though the Fritzl story is truly horrifying, I am a sucker for true crime.  I decided to read John Glatt’s 2010 book, Secrets in the Cellar, which is about the Fritzl case.  This book turned out to be a real page turner, not so much because of the way it was written, but because this crime is so extraordinary and horrible.  Austria had already been reeling from the story about Natascha Kampusch, a ten year old girl from Vienna who was abducted, beaten, and enslaved by a stranger who kept her in an underground pit for eight years.  As horrible as that story was, Fritzl’s story was far worse.  He was doing these horrible things to his own daughter and the children he forced her to have with him.

Glatt does a good job of explaining how Fritzl came to be the monster that he is.  Fritzl was born in 1935 and raised by an abusive mother who beat him savagely.  As a young boy, he had witnessed firsthand the horrors of Adolf Hitler, but Hitler was apparently less terrifying than his own mother.  Fritzl eventually came to adore and respect her as a “great woman”, even though she was very abusive and controlling.

Josef Fritzl was a handsome man who had a very strong libido.  He was attracted to “nice” girls and dated often, finally settling on Rosemarie, a woman who was very passive and meek.  By Glatt’s account, Fritzl was a very competent engineer who seemed very normal in most ways.  But he ruled his house with an iron fist and was very abusive and cruel to his wife and their children.  Fritzl was also a convicted rapist who frequently hired prostitutes, many of whom later told police about his sick fantasies.  Fritzl may have also been responsible for other unsolved rapes and murders of women.

Elisabeth was Fritzl’s fourth child, born in 1966, and she resembled Fritzl’s mother.  From her birth, Josef Fritzl became obsessed with her.  By the time she was eleven years old, he had started raping her.  Though he let her go to school and even become trained in the culinary arts, he did not want her to date boys.  In August 1984, she was 18 years old and on the brink of escaping him when he asked her to help him move a heavy steel door to his cellar.

As they were moving the door, Fritzl overpowered Elisabeth, covered her nose and mouth with ether, and handcuffed her.  He then moved her to the prison he had spent six years constructing.  She would stay there for 24 years.  Only when Elisabeth’s eldest daughter, Kerstin, became deathly ill did Fritzl finally let Elisabeth and sons Stefan and Felix leave the dungeon so that Kerstin could get medical care.  It was then that the whole shocking story unfolded.

A 60 Minutes Australia story about Josef Fritzl.

Imagine, for a minute, being kept in a dungeon underground for twenty-four years, not seeing the light of day or breathing fresh air.  Then imagine being born in that dungeon and never seeing the sun or the moon or rain.  That was the reality of what happened to Elisabeth Fritzl and the children who were kept in the dungeon with her.  The youngest child was five when they were finally let out and being outside was like being in outer space.  Elisabeth’s children had only seen the outside world on television.  Kerstin, the nineteen year old daughter whose illness prompted their release, was kept in a medically induced coma for weeks after they were let out of the cell.  She very nearly died never having known the pleasure of feeling sunlight on her face. 

Secrets in the Cellar is well-written and interesting, though I did notice a few passages that became a bit repetitive.  Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that Glatt didn’t actually interview many of the people involved in this case.  That’s not entirely his fault, since the Fritzl family was very heavily guarded and protected from journalists.  On the other hand, what he’s written here most people could probably find out by reading news articles about the Fritzl case.  The book just makes the story more conveniently packaged.  Nevertheless, I am not sorry I read Secrets in the Cellar and I would recommend it to those who want to read about the Fritzl case.  I’d probably give it three stars out of five.

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