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A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard (2011)

A Stolen Life is an incredibly difficult book to review (although nowhere near the difficulty its author faced in writing it).  In this memoir, Dugard recounts and reflects on her kidnapping and eighteen years of imprisonment and repeated rape by Phillip Garrido, which was assited by his wife Nancy Garrido. The usual rules for reviewing books just can’t apply.  When reviewing a book, I usually consider how convincing or exciting the plot is, and how skillful the author is with language.  Here, however, I don’t have the heart to analyze Dugard’s prose.  She’s survived a nightmare.  She’s bravely sharing it with the world, both as part of her healing, and because she has realized that the Garridos do not deserve her silence.

What was even more striking than the inhumanity of the Garridos was the persistent incompetence of the California police and parole board.  There were countless opportunities for Jaycee to be discovered and rescued from her hell.  Only when Garrido, in the throes of his delusions, affirmatively walked into the police and made all kinds of crazy statements to them did they bother to take a second look.  In 2010, in recognition of its massive failing and potentially limitless civil rights action exposure, the State of California approved a $20 million settlement to Dugard. After reading her memoir, I believe that is only a drop in the bucket of her suffering.

What most impressed me about Dugard was the bright tone of her memoir, despite her suffering.  Despite the dark conditions, she remained full of hope.  Her love for her two daughters is inspiring and heartwarming.  She was impregnated by Garrido at ages 14 and 17, and she delivered those daughters with no medical attention, in Garrido’s backyard.  She cared for her daughters with love and tenderness, she was devoted to educated them, despite she herself only having a fifth grade education.  I would be afraid that her children would be dark reminders of Garrido, but to her they are no such thing.  She loves them deeply.

It’s hard for me to decide whether I recommend this book.  I picked it out of curiosity.  I’m a little ashamed that I am curious about someone else’s terrible suffering. Dugard is an inspiration for everyone– to care about the safety of our communities, to ask questions when something seems amiss, and to maintain an outlook of hope and compassion.  I wish for nothing but the best to her and her daughters.

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