Book Review: Leaving the Saints – Martha Beck [TSS]

Title: Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith
Author: Martha Beck
ISBN: 9780307335999
Pages: 352
Release Date: April 25, 2006
Publisher: Broadway
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Source: Personal Copy 
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

After Martha Beck makes a difficult choice about her son, Adam, she and her husband move to Utah in order to be around the Mormons she grew up with.  Beck knows that people in the Mormon faith will not question her decision about Adam.  But when she arrives in Utah and begins teaching at Brigham Young University, Beck finds a different place than what she remembers.  The Mormon church she finds in Provo does not tolerate arguments, and when difficult memories from her childhood begin to surface, Beck realizes she can no longer be a part of the church.

Review:

Leaving the Saints is an interesting and witty look at the Mormon church from an outsider who was once firmly within the church’s embrace.  It’s filled with questions, doubts, and horrifying actions, and is completely shocking at times.  Beck doesn’t hold back as she criticizes the church and its practices within Utah (most Mormons outside the state will believe she is lying – and I wouldn’t be surprised if many Mormons who live within Utah claim that as well), and what she finds is both fascinating and repulsive to a thinking person. 

But Martha Beck has to be taken with a grain of salt.  While I never believed she was lying or untruthful about her experiences and memories, this is an extremely harsh look at a religion and culture that Beck has rejected (and so has rejected Beck).  It’s dangerous to make generalizations about an entire religion, and I would definitely hesitate to apply what Beck discloses in her memoir to Mormonism as a whole.  I treated Beck’s experiences as her own, rather than assuming what she discusses is indicative of a typical Mormon experience.

That being said, this memoir is incredibly interesting.  Beck portrays Mormonism as having welcoming and open arms for the faithful, unquestioning members, but harsh realities for those who dare to doubt what they have been taught.  She doesn’t mince words and has a lot of criticism about the way the church is run.  For example, Beck says,

“I’ve always been perplexed that when my son with Down syndrome speaks gibberish, people assume it’s because he’s mentally retarded, but when Mormon leaders do the same thing Latter-day Saints assume it’s because the power and depth of their insights boggles ordinary understanding.”

The most interesting and disturbing part of the memoir for me was when Beck discusses sexual abuse of children.  She ponders whether the incidence of sexual abuse is higher within the Mormon church than within the general population (she believes it is) and discusses the likelihood that a victim of sexual abuse will, in turn, abuse their own children.

Beck’s acerbic wit is what really makes her memoir worth reading.  Her criticisms and experiences within the Mormon church are definitely interesting (and controversial, I’m sure), but she deals with them with the same dry sense of humor she shows in the quote above.  It makes Leaving the Saints an incredibly engaging book to read.

It’s difficult to review a book like Leaving the Saints because it is such an indictment of the Mormon Church (while also, somehow, being grateful for the warm embrace of the Mormon community).  I’m sure this memoir would completely offend faithful Mormons.  However, I can’t help but be fascinated by the book, especially because it is so well written and thought provoking.  I highly recommend Leaving the Saints to those curious about the Mormon church and Beck’s experiences, but caveat that recommendation with a warning not to judge an entire community and religion based on what Beck discusses within her memoir. 

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Comments

  1. Sounds like a fascinating memoir. Have you thought of nominating it for the Indie Lit Awards?

  2. Sounds like a fascinating memoir. Have you thought of nominating it for the Indie Lit Awards?

  3. There were times when I wondered about Beck’s truthfulness too. I don’t not believe any particular thing she says, but the tenor of the book made me feel a little uncomfortable for reasons I could not quite pinpoint. :/ I liked Expecting Adam better.

  4. There were times when I wondered about Beck’s truthfulness too. I don’t not believe any particular thing she says, but the tenor of the book made me feel a little uncomfortable for reasons I could not quite pinpoint. :/ I liked Expecting Adam better.

  5. Sounds very interesting. I have an interest in diff faiths. I was raised Baptist, but very non involved non participating. I converted to Catholicism but I’m disillusioned by that too. I’m currently reading FAITH, so good. I think I’m discerning that it’s best to just be private and believe what you wish.
    Good review.

  6. Sounds very interesting. I have an interest in diff faiths. I was raised Baptist, but very non involved non participating. I converted to Catholicism but I’m disillusioned by that too. I’m currently reading FAITH, so good. I think I’m discerning that it’s best to just be private and believe what you wish.
    Good review.

  7. I appreciate your injunction not to judge the entire religion based on one woman’s experiences. I think often people struggle with separating the actual teachings of the religion with practices that members commit that are in no way taught or encouraged by the church.

  8. I appreciate your injunction not to judge the entire religion based on one woman’s experiences. I think often people struggle with separating the actual teachings of the religion with practices that members commit that are in no way taught or encouraged by the church.

  9. This sounds fascinating, and I totally agree with your opinion that whole religions should not be judged based on one particular experience. I do think that there might be some antagonistic behavior going on between the church and Beck, but that only serves to make this book more enticing to me. Very impressive review on this one Swapna! I definitely need to read this one at some point.

  10. This sounds fascinating, and I totally agree with your opinion that whole religions should not be judged based on one particular experience. I do think that there might be some antagonistic behavior going on between the church and Beck, but that only serves to make this book more enticing to me. Very impressive review on this one Swapna! I definitely need to read this one at some point.

  11. I agree that one person’s view does not cover the entire thing – religion or anything else but it is always good to read differing opinions.

  12. I agree that one person’s view does not cover the entire thing – religion or anything else but it is always good to read differing opinions.

  13. I bought this book because I saw it on your blog. I am not a Mormon, but I have recently moved to the suburbs of Salt Lake City and it is a world that people (Mormon & non-Mormon alike) outside of Utah just don’t understand. I look forward to reading this book just so I can have a better understanding of my surroundings. While I understand that it is not the whole story and is just one person’s view, it will likely balance out all of the “rah rah we are awesome” that has been shoved down my throat since the day we moved to town.

  14. I bought this book because I saw it on your blog. I am not a Mormon, but I have recently moved to the suburbs of Salt Lake City and it is a world that people (Mormon & non-Mormon alike) outside of Utah just don’t understand. I look forward to reading this book just so I can have a better understanding of my surroundings. While I understand that it is not the whole story and is just one person’s view, it will likely balance out all of the “rah rah we are awesome” that has been shoved down my throat since the day we moved to town.

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