Author: Laura Elizabeth Woollett
First Published: 30 July 2018
Rating: 5 stars
“This life is the dawn of revolution and she is ready to meet it in a necklace of thorns, sprouting black feathers, adorned with the reddest roses.”
It’s the summer of 1968, and Evelyn Lynden is a woman at war with herself. Minister’s daughter. Atheist. Independent woman. Frustrated wife. Bitch with a bleeding heart.
Following her conscientious-objector husband Lenny to the rural Eden of Evergreen Valley, California, Evelyn wants to be happy with their new life. Yet as the world is rocked by warfare and political assassinations, by racial discrimination and social upheaval, she finds herself disillusioned with Lenny’s passive ways — and anxious for a saviour.
Enter the Reverend Jim Jones, the dynamic leader of a revolutionary church called Peoples Temple. As Evelyn grows closer to Jones, her marriage is just the first casualty of his rise to power.
Beautiful Revolutionary follows the devastating story of The People’s Temple. This was one of my most anticipated read, as I loved Woollett’s short story collection, The Love of a Bad Man.
I adore that Woollett decided to focus on the individual people whose lives were affected by cult leader Jim Jones rather than focus on Jones. Set in the last 1960s in California, we follow Evelyn Lynden. How she got wrapped up in The People’s Temple and Jim Jones.
The book is split into three sections each one detailing the dark descent of the Temple’s People. The first book focuses on Evelyn and Lenny as they move to Evergreen Valley were Lenny got a job working in a psychiatric hospital. The pair makes an odd couple. Lenny is a dreamy stoner who lacks motivation. Conversely, Evelyn is driven but bored looking for anything to fill the void her marriage fails to do. In this boredom, she finds The People’s Temple.
In the next two sections, as Evelyn climbs the ranks of the church’s in to the inner circle, the focus drifts from Evelyn and Lenny to other members. In showing other perspectives we see more the church’s teachings both in California and as they travel across America. Their message is a combination of Christianity, socialism and communism with an emphasis on racial equality. The final book has the church leave America and settle in Jonestown, Guyana.
The story has been carefully researched and beautifully crafted. Through Evelyn, Woollett continues to explore the theme of why women fall for ‘bad men’. The way the tension built until the final, inevitable conclusion was wonderfully done. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I still felt sick and was praying that the ending would be different. These people get into your heart and don’t let go even after you’ve closed the cover. It’s heartbreaking that you can see when things turn sour, which they seem oblivious too.
If you’re fascinated by cults, true crime or have an interest in Jonestown this one is definitely for you!