The Witness Wore Red

The Witness Wore Red (Photo: Hachette Book Group)I’ve been eyeing The Witness Wore Red for a few months now, and last night/this morning I thought I would finally bite the bullet, sit down and read it. It was a huge mistake – not because it’s not great, because it really is – but because it’s so compelling that all the stuff I was going to do today before work (like go to the pool, do all my laundry and organize the rest of my Christmas presents), just got thrown right out the window.

A weird thing that you should probably know about me is that I find the whole issue of the FLDS – the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints – completely fascinating. I’m not entirely sure why, though I know that it started right around the time that I read my dad’s copy of Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer in 2003, right before university. If you haven’t read this, you really should. I’ve read it about four times and it’s a brilliantly-researched, smart and intriguing look into the spin-off sects and subcultures that are rooted in early Mormonism (but have absolutely nothing to do with modern Mormon faith – this is a really, really important distinction).

From there, I read Carolyn Jessop’s Escape and Elissa Wall’s A Stolen Life – both stories of courageous young FLDS women who fled their plural marriages at great personal risk. Both were inspiring for different reasons – Jessop’s because she blazed a trail for other young women to follow (and because she managed to escape the FLDS with all of her children) and Wall’s because I was shocked to discover that Elissa Wall is actually one year younger than me. It’s actually mind-blowingly awful to believe that in modern North America, when I was getting As in English, worrying about my lack of basketball skills and getting ready to go to grade nine dances for lots of sweaty hand-holding, a grade eight girl just a day’s drive from me was being promised in marriage to her own cousin. Why don’t more people know this is going on? Why wasn’t anybody doing anything? I wondered. My heart broke for Elissa.

I also read Jessop’s moving follow-up book Triumph: Life After The Cult while I lived in Sydney – and of course, I’m a huge, huge fan of the HBO show Big Love (Roman and Alby Grant are loosely based on Rulon and Warren Jeffs, and there’s even a scene where Roman Grant watches news footage of Warren Jeffs’ arrest). And I was completely riveted by the 2008 news coverage of the raids on the Yearning for Zion ranch, as well as Warren Jeffs’ 2011 trial. I’m fully aware that this is a really odd thing to be very well read about (in part, I blame my journalism degree). It’s just so interesting and terrible and…well…it just doesn’t seem possible that it continues to happen in post-2000 USA.

If you think all of these other books are great reads – or if you’ve never read anything about the FLDS before – The Witness Wore Red is one of the best first-hand accounts of this culture I’ve come across. Rebecca Musser (who is the sister of Elissa Wall, who I had been wondering about since I read Stolen Innocence) is articulate, resilient and independent – and her keen eye for detail makes for a comprehensive portrait of life in the sect for young women, particularly when she becomes the 19th wife of ‘prophet’ Rulon Jeffs at age 19 (he was in his mid-80s).

For seven years, she faced unspeakable emotional, sexual and physical abuse until her husband died – at which time, the expectation was that she would then marry his son, Warren Jeffs. With nowhere to go and nobody to turn to, she made what might possibly have been the bravest and scariest decision ever – she hopped the fence and escaped, knowing she had no money, resources, education or skills and that she was turning her back on her entire family and the only life she had ever known.

She writes about her experiences immediately after she leaves the FLDS. Rebecca can’t even make a single decision about who she should be, what food she should order on a menu or even what her hair should look like on her own.

But she finds her voice. And what a voice! Rebecca ended up being a key witness when Warren Jeffs and other FLDS leaders finally went to trial over the crimes they had committed against women and children while in positions of power.  She also consulted heavily with the Texas Rangers during the Yearning for Zion raids. It cost her a lot of money, several years of court cases and in the end, even her marriage, but her courageous fight for trapped young women who don’t know that they have voices of their own is a truly inspiring story. Now, she’s an international motivational speaker, and an advocate for human trafficking victims. You should spend some time checking out her website.

The Witness Wore Red is truthful, courageous and hopeful – and a great read. Check out the trailer here:

10 thoughts on “The Witness Wore Red

  1. So this is the first entry of your blog I’ve read and I’ve already added two books to my to-read shelf on Goodreads. While I was never under the illusion that I could ever read through that entire shelf without adding anything new, I think that reading your blog is going to lead to an explosion in the number of books populating my to-read shelf.

    This was a really interesting post! I’ll have to go back and catch up… and read some of the titles you’ve given here, of course!

    • Thank you so much for reading! This one is really great, but if you’re going to read on the FLDS, start with Under The Banner of Heaven for context first. Apparently (according to the semi-reliable Wikipedia), someone has now bought the rights to turn that one into a movie!

      • I should have signed in last time. Sorry!

        Duly noted! I’ve moved Under The Banner of Heaven up in my Goodreads to-read folder above The Witness Wore Red. I’ll have to track down copies!

      • I bet I still have my copy at my parents’ house. I’m headed over there tomorrow, so I will check on it. This would be a great excuse for us to get together if you’re in town. Maybe one evening next week (like Thursday) if you are around? If not, I’m sticking pretty close to home this holiday, so we’ll work something out. It would be nice to finally catch up! I’ll Facebook you!

  2. Thank you for taking time to read my book. I appreciate your effort and I enjoyed reading your review (which I shared on my Facebook Page). Best wishes to you and all your readers out there. If you (Paperback Princess) feel comfortable, please send me a number to contact you to contact@rebeccamusser.com so we can chat for a few minutes. -RM

    • Rebecca, thank you for sharing your courageous story! I can’t believe you found your way to my blog. I would love to take you up on your offer – I’ll send you an email shortly.

  3. I just ordered “The Witness Wore Red,” your review is helpful and I now am more eager to get the book. Agree that the FLDS is a fascinating topic, I wish to learn as much as possible. Because it is important to understand every aspect of how a religion can control everyday life.

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