If I repost Michelle Knight’s book about her ordeal being held captive at the hands of Ariel Castro, I have to repost the book written by her co-captives, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry. This review originally appeared on my old blog on June 13, 2016. I am reposting it as/is.
I recently read and reviewed Michelle Knight’s book, Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed: A Memoir of the Cleveland Kidnappings. Michelle Knight was one of three women the late rapist and kidnapper Ariel Castro kept chained up in his house for many years. I found Michelle Knight’s book rather inspiring, though it wasn’t the best written book I’ve ever read.
Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland, written by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus and ghost writers Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, got better reviews on Amazon.com. Since I am fascinated by true crime and like to read different perspectives, I decided to read Hope right after I read Finding Me. I finished the book last night and have come to the conclusion that it’s a different kind of book than Finding Me is, even though some of the stories overlap.
Hope is written from Amanda Berry’s and Gina DeJesus’ perspectives. Michelle Knight is mentioned in the book, but by and large, her part in this book is relatively small. Somehow, Ariel Castro managed to keep the women from knowing about each other for years. Later, there were times when they were chained together. Amanda Berry also had a child by Ariel Castro which Michelle Knight, who had given birth before she was kidnapped, helped deliver in a plastic wading pool. I got the sense that Berry may have been Castro’s favorite of the three. Michelle Knight got pregnant five times and Castro starved and beat her each time to force her to miscarry. Berry describes Castro as a loving father to their daughter, Jocelyn, while Knight describes Castro as a horrible monster in her book.
The authors include backstory on Ariel Castro, including where he grew up and his years with his common law wife, Nilda, who is now dead. Castro had children with Nilda who saw him as a more or less normal man. They had no idea that he was holding three women captive. For some reason, it never occurred to Castro’s family to wonder why certain parts of his house were strictly off limits. Somehow, they never saw or heard the women. In my opinion, one of the most interesting passages in Hope was when one of Castro’s daughters came to the house to pick up family heirlooms. Castro was locked up and had tearfully agreed to let the city of Cleveland raze his house. The daughter had come over to find mementos before they were destroyed. While she was in the house, she mused about how her father had managed to hide this part of his life from everyone. Her mother had died and her father, a man she had loved and respected, was not the person she thought he was. She felt like an orphan.
Interestingly enough, Castro is presented less brutally in Hope than he was in Finding Me. Somehow, the authors manage to give the man more humanity. But again, I think that’s because of the different perspectives. Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus are different people with different experiences. Knight is also older than the other two women and was the first one abducted. She is not mentioned much in Hope, though, and I think that’s for a number of reasons. First off, Knight wrote her own book. Secondly, the women were not always kept together. In fact, I got the sense that they were kept apart a good part of the time, especially at the beginning of their captivity. Berry and DeJesus were apparently close in age and have become friends.
I still don’t know why Castro did what he did. He said it was because he had a “sexual problem”. He reportedly feared prison and hated it when the women compared their captivity with prison. Somehow, he didn’t grasp that what he was doing was worse than prison. At least in prison, family can visit and there is usually a release date. People in prison are fed regularly and aren’t usually repeatedly raped and beaten. Castro was definitely a monster and a coward, but of everyone in this case, his brain is the one I’d most like to pick. What drives someone to do what he did? He obviously didn’t see himself as a bad person, even as he was doing horrific things to three women and stealing large portions of their lives.
I think Hope is a better written book than Finding Me is. The ghost writers did a good job of making the story sound as if it came from the two former captives, but they also included a lot more information, including about Castro himself and his “day” in court. While Finding Me is about Michelle Knight’s life, including the time before she was kidnapped, Hope is really just about the abduction and life with Ariel Castro from Berry’s and DeJesus’ viewpoint. It took me less time to read this book, probably because the quality of writing was better.
Overall, if I had to choose between reading Finding Me and Hope, I would probably pick Hope. However, I think both books are worth reading, even if some of the material within them is disturbing. I think Hope offers a more complete look at the people involved in this case, especially Ariel Castro. I’d give both books four stars, but grant slightly more “star power” to Hope.
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