Stories from Jonestown

By Duncan, Ann W. | American Studies, April 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Stories from Jonestown


Duncan, Ann W., American Studies


STORIES FROM JONESTOWN. By Leigh Fondakowski. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2013.

Stories from Jonestown joins a large and growing body of work documenting the work of Jim Jones, the origins and history of the Peoples Temple, and the tragic events in Jonestown, Guyana. The book chronicles the research and interviews that led to the creation of the play The People's Temple which opened at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2005. Calling the book "an extension of the life of the play," author Leigh Fondakowski uses this narrative form to more explicitly explain why this project came to be and how it adds a necessary perspective to memory of Jonestown. Rather than ending the story with the events of November 18, 1978, Fondakowski begins on November 19 and attempts to tell the story of some of the eighty members who were in Guyana, and the thousands still in California, survivors whose experiences cannot be summed up with the labels "murders-victims-cultists" so rampant in other portrayals of this community. Intermixing interview transcriptions with narrative describing the particular difficulties in reaching and communicating with a broad spectrum of survivors, Fondakowski gradually reveals her argument through her methodology. Not brainwashed cultists or hopeless victims, the interviewees in Stories from Jonestown are unified in their initial attraction to Jones' progressive politics and the tensions and complexities with which they remember the past and reckon with the pain, regret, guilt, anger, embarrassment, and even fondness Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple engender. Particularly telling among these interviewees are Stephan Jones-Jim Jones' adopted son who expresses anger towards his father intermixed with a desire to humanize him in the public imagination and extreme guilt for not returning to Jonestown upon hearing of the shootings that would eventually lead to the mass deaths. …

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