I am speechless in the face of Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven. Speechless.
Ron and Dan Lafferty, brothers in genetics and in faith, claim they were commanded by God to kill their sister-in-law and baby niece. Using this stringently, horrifically detailed crime as a jumping off point for exploring the intersection of extremist faith and violence, Krakauer takes us into the world of fundamentalist Mormons, exploring the history of the religion, the breakaway from the larger church that we understand today, and their death grip on The Principle--polygamy--at all costs.
My first reaction to this book is, "Holy mother of pearl, how on earth has the world not read this???" Not because of its revelatory power, which is strong and magnetic, but because it is such a well-written treatise on religious fundamentalism and the (dare I say?) inherent violence in the protection of those values. How on earth others wouldn't say, "Golly gee whiz, so-and-so thinks they are the next-come Messiah--maybe they are crazy!" mind-boggles me. You would think after the third person said this someone would say, "Waaiiiittt a second..." But no. Which I guess is not such a bad thing, as Krakauer's phenomenal book came out of it.
This is a non-fiction piece, which often takes me longer to read than a novel simply because of the larger amount of detail it contains and focus it requires. Not Banner, no sir. I whipped through this 400 page tome in a matter of hours, only because I refused to put it down. I also refused to stop thinking about it. It owned my life for days after--I couldn't stop telling every person I came across to read this book. I am a little behind the game; it was released in 2003, after all. Astounding. It was just astounding.
Krakauer has this amazing way of making his work come across like a work of deep and empowering fiction, and he chooses subjects that will fascinate the unfascinatable. (Yes, I just invented that word. You're welcome.) His research is meticulous, and it should come as no shock that many in the Mormon faith (both fundamentalist and not) didn't want this published. It does not shed a positive light on the history of America's fastest growing religion, but if we are honest with one another then we can accept that no religion exists with an unblemished record. Once we can accept this fact, we can move forward with understanding what others believe. It's what I seek--understanding belief systems and the history behind them because it's interesting to me.
So this is what I encourage you to pick up and enjoy this upcoming month. It's worth a read for nothing else than Krakauer's wondrous writing and ability to draw you in.
Buy the hard copy below. For real.