At a Glance
Author: Amber Scorah
Published: June 4, 2019 by Viking
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Religion, Cult,
Goodreads Rating: 3.92
“A riveting memoir of losing faith and finding freedom while a covert missionary in one of the world’s most restrictive countries.
A third-generation Jehovah’s Witness, Amber Scorah had devoted her life to sounding God’s warning of impending Armageddon. She volunteered to take the message to China, where the preaching she did was illegal and could result in her expulsion or worse. Here, she had some distance from her community for the first time. Immersion in a foreign language and culture–and a whole new way of thinking–turned her world upside down, and eventually led her to lose all that she had been sure was true.
As a proselytizer in Shanghai, using fake names and secret codes to evade the authorities’ notice, Scorah discreetly looked for targets in public parks and stores. To support herself, she found work at a Chinese language learning podcast, hiding her real purpose from her coworkers. Now with a creative outlet, getting to know worldly people for the first time, she began to understand that there were other ways of seeing the world and living a fulfilling life. When one of these relationships became an “escape hatch,” Scorah’s loss of faith culminated in her own personal apocalypse, the only kind of ending possible for a Jehovah’s Witness.
Shunned by family and friends as an apostate, Scorah was alone in Shanghai and thrown into a world she had only known from the periphery–with no education or support system. A coming of age story of a woman already in her thirties, this unforgettable memoir examines what it’s like to start one’s life over again with an entirely new identity. It follows Scorah to New York City, where a personal tragedy forces her to look for new ways to find meaning in the absence of religion. With compelling, spare prose, Leaving the Witness traces the bittersweet process of starting over, when everything one’s life was built around is gone.”
I was really excited to read this book when I got it. I picked it as an add-on to my Book of the Month box back in September but felt it would be a perfect addition to my Non-Fiction November efforts. I’ve always been really interested in other cultures and other religions. The curiosity in me longs know why people do things and what exactly motivates them. Honestly, I should have been a sociology major.
Amber Scorah, raised in Vancouver craved community and love her whole life. Her parents had both been raised as Jehovah Witness’ but as time went on both her parents slowly stopped attending, so by the time Scorah was 12 she hadn’t fully experienced the extent of the community within the Witness’. Her grandmother, ended up taking both Scorah and her sister and helped to immerse them into the community which is really where her story starts. Scorah spends quite a bit of time sharing her experiences growing up and while I think it relates to the story, it drags on a bit. However, it’s really the foundation to how she became so exposed and her dedication to the church later on.
It’s interesting to note that while I knew this was a memoir, I honestly expected to get more insight into the way the church function as a whole. We do get some history on how the church was formed and I did learn some super interesting tidbits such as:
- Jehovah Witness’ must spend 60-70 hours a week preaching
- Most will never get a college degree
- They are not career oriented and most will only ever hold part time jobs since preaching is their main job.
- Women are suppose to be submissive
I was really hoping to learn so much more around the religion and unfortunately that’s not what this book is about. This is about one person’s journey out of the religion and how she realized she was basically in a cult. You would think I would have gathered that from the title but I didn’t.
The thing I really enjoyed about this book though was the unexpected amount of tidbits I learned about China and Chinese culture. I visited China back in 2013 for a month and it’s a very interesting place. It’s extremely different from Western cultures but the two things that blew me away the most is 1. The sheer amount of people everywhere all the time, and 2. the massive amounts of air pollution. The pollution was so bad on days in the cities that I couldn’t even wear my contacts. Scroah, as the host of a podcast that helps expats get to know Chinese culture has tons of information on quirks of the culture. She relates it all back to Western culture / English speakers which really puts it into perspective have different and similiar cultures can be. I would honestly, almost recommend this book more for the Chinese culture lessons than as a memoir or for learning about the Jehovah Witness’ but that’s just me.
The book was okay. I did get slightly bored at parts and thought the ending dragged on. It definitely could have been a solid 50 pages shorter. I don’t necessarily regret reading the book but I was disappointed in. Only ★★★ for me this time around. This book did make me want to read up more around the Jehovah Witness’ and I did actually learn some things so that’s a plus. If you’re interested in reading the book you can get it HERE!