Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review--TORTURED by Victoria Spry

Recently, when I visited my family in the USA, I saw that Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus had released a memoir the two of them wrote on their experience being held captive by Ariel Castro for 10 years. I purchased the book for my Kindle, as last year I had read Michelle Knight's memoir and I want to offer support for the girls.

After I had done this, Amazon suggested I read Tortured by Victoria Spry. At first I was a bit hesitant--it sounds awful but sometimes I am not sure how much pain and suffering I can take hearing about in one go. Studying the Holocaust sometimes makes it a bit of an overload and there is only so much human hurt one can really read about at once without starting to feel hopeless.

But, I ended up purchasing it and I am so glad I did. Victoria only published the book about a month ago despite her mother, Eunice Spry, having been sentenced back in 2007. Her adopted siblings, Christopher Spry and Alloma Gilbert both published books back in 2008, respectively. Although Victoria was approached to do the same then, she decided to do it in her own time. Her brother and sister had waived their right to anonymity during the trial, however, Victoria had not. Her identity and face were hidden from the photos and stories her siblings wrote about.

Victoria was adopted by a woman named Eunice Spry when she was very small, with very little memory of her parents. As is the case with many abusive homes, Victoria was the punching bag whilst other children in the family were treated with some semblance of care and dignity--sometimes the oldest child even joining in on the beatings. When Eunice adopted Alloma and Chris (and another third child), they were also tortured in the same way Victoria had been--yet the third adopted child was treated extremely well.

Reading some of the stories of Victoria's childhood made me feel ill--and they continued until Victoria was an adult. Her schooling and emotional development neglected, it took Victoria a long time to realize (and feel like) she had any agency for herself.

I think what struck me the most about this book what the last fourth of it. Most survivor narratives, whether they be Holocaust narratives or victims of abuse, shy away from speaking about the hard road from "liberation" (I use the Holocaust vernacular here, but liberation can also mean freedom from abuse) to living a normal life. There are no survivors who go straight to living a happy, carefree existence--and depending on the person, many struggle with addiction, depression and PTSD. There are even some cases of elderly Holocaust survivors who were institutionalized upon their liberation and have actually never left, unable to cope or care for themselves after the trauma they endured. 

Though Victoria is in a better place now, the story did not end with her mother's sentencing. Instead, it continued on to discuss the dark days that lie between then and now. Victoria makes no qualms about the fact that she did not know much about the outside world or how to take care of herself, her schooling was severely limited and she suffered from PTSD, addiction and depression--in addition to physical ailments from a terrible car accident she was in as a teenager. Her mother denied her access to the care she needed beyond keeping her alive, meaning Victoria was kept in a wheelchair and incontinent for years longer than medically necessary, leaving lasting and painful affects.

Victoria started her Part Three with this part, which I felt was very apt as this is so often left out of survivor narratives:

"Hello, there. I bet you're surprised to see me still here. But, yes, there is a 'part three' to my story. I know most books like this end on that last line, don't they? Ding dong, the witch is, if not quite dead, then at least banged up, so we can all live happily ever after.

But real life doesn't work that way, it's not as open and shut as that. All those headlines you see in the paper, proclaiming justice has been done for the victims, so now we can all rest easy in our beds--well, you never hear what happens next, after the media circus has packed up and gone home, and the justice system has run its course, and those at the heart of the story have to pick up their lives and move on. You never hear what happens to them afterwards."

I was also incredibly touched by Victoria's devotion to her dogs and how they helped her gain self-worth and self-esteem. I ended up crying at the end as she discussed how much the dogs in her life have helped her grow--especially because the dogs in my life have been so important for me to get me through tough times. People always say, "It's just a dog." But it isn't. How many people show you that sort of unconditional love, care and devotion?

All in all, I'd recommend this book, though it is fairly graphic and sickening at times to read what these three children endured. I am thinking of reading Chris and Alloma's books but it may prove very emotionally difficult.

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