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October Book Club: American Heiress

Happy November! Our last post of the month means one thing: the Literally book club meeting!

October’s book was American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin. After new member intros, snacks and wine, discussion was quite intense! Set in the mid 1970's in San Francisco, this true story delves into the intense period of time throughout Patty’s kidnapping by the terrorist group the Symbionese Liberation Army, her indoctrination, participation in extreme acts of violence, and finally her arrest, trial and acquittal.

We're always drawn to a good cover!

The first thing that came to mind while reading, for us, was the significance of Patty’s last name. The Hearst family is an American dynasty in the publishing industry, worth approximately $28 billion today. Kidnapped because the members of the SLA recognized her name in the newspaper, Patty’s tremendous suffering may be owed, in large part, to the assumed wealth of her father. The second, and perhaps more frustrating, is Patty’s progression from captive to participant to de-facto leader in a rag-tag terrorist group, who would stop at nothing - including murder - to prove themselves as legitimate.

The author investigates the discrepancies between Patty’s experience as a prisoner and a criminal, under the spell of Stockholm Syndrome. We all wondered, at what point, after being locked in a closet and abused, trained to fire a gun and rob a bank, does one become truly indoctrinated? The theme of the discussion centered around Patty’s discovery of "radical" feminism, the author’s apparent disdain for the women in the story, and our perceptions of the painful reality of Patty’s experience.

Our hostess, Kate, with her pup, and Patty pictured with her award-winning dog. Life imitates life, people.

It’s a tough thing, to tell the story of another person without their consent, especially a story that is so harrowing, and affected the lives of so many. Patty herself does not support the claims Toobin makes, and the book can in no way be considered a truly accurate account of what happened - most of the original members of the SLA were killed in a televised firefight with the police, and Patty did not participate in interviews for the book.

American Heiress is a particularly dry, though very interesting historical read, about a very dark time in America. San Francisco in the 1970’s was a haven for fanatics, serial killers, and guerrilla gangs with a penchant for setting off bombs, while the American political system was in turmoil. It’s amazing to think that during all this, the SLA members were in their mid 20’s. How interesting to contrast them with today’s protesters in Hong Kong, in Chile, in the UK and the US, using drastically different tactics to fight for a better future.

Hope you all have a wonderful start to November, and happy reading!


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