In the opening pages of this novel, an accident brings a young girl to the attention of the Preacher, the all-powerful leader of a religious cult secluded in the jungle. Trina has only dim memories of the life she lived with her mother before they joined the community and the closed, close society is all she knows. When she is singled out for special favour, it becomes clear that the gaze of the Preacher can be a dangerous thing. As the Preacher's behaviour and the demands he places on his followers become more extreme, Trina's mother begins to question her faith in the charismatic but fatally flawed leader and to dream of an escape from his control.In this powerful re-imagining of the infamous Jonestown tragedy, D'Aguiar writes with the lyrical intensity of a poet, examining the motivations and obsessions that lead to religious fanaticism. This is a novel about the betrayal of faith and of innocence, a story about love, devotion and mania that is a brave attempt to understand the reasoning of people who would, in the end, kill their own children in the prelude to a mass suicide that shocked the world. Although history tells us that the ending of this story can never be anything other than a tragedy, D'Aguiar's compassion, and his ability to draw the reader into the intimate and terrible reality of lives lived at the whim of a corrupt and dangerous cult leader, ensure that in the end this is a story of hope.
D'Aguiar's (Bethany Bettany) fifth novel launches us into the 1978 Jonestown mass suicide and cult leader Jim Jones's twisted version of paradise: an isolated place where the inhabitants are starving and punished for the smallest infraction, where a community's adults allows live tarantulas and scorpions to crawl over small children as a test of their faith, where the spiritual leader is viewed as half-deity, half-rockstar by all who live there. Although readers learn little about the main characters, we do find out that the college-educated Joyce and her spirited daughter Trina are two of the commune's most respected members. Yet even they begin to have doubts after witnessing the preacher's deception and lies. Still, the most magical part of this story isn't Joyce or even Trina, but Adam, the enormous caged gorilla, whom the preacher uses to scare and control the members of the community. Adam is the book's heart and provides almost all the poignancy and dark humor. While D'Aguiar can describe starvation with prose so evocative it makes a person hunger for a piece of bread, he focuses little on the characters themselves and the kind evil charisma that led to the suicides of 918 people.