Short Reviews

Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah's Witnesses

by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
Simon & Schuerer, 413 pp., $12.95

The Horse of Pride: Life in a Breton Village

by Pierre-Jakez Hélias, translated and abridged by June Guicharnaud
Yale University Press, 351 pp., $13.00

The Pesticide Conspiracy

by Robert van den Bosch
Doubleday, 266 pp., $8.95

The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama
Deep in the scrub of Northern Ontario, approached by an unpaved two-lane road—few in those parts had cars in the Thirties—lay the enclave of souvenir stands, homestead, and hospital/stadium known the world over as Quintland. Prefaced by an artist’s reconstruction of the slie, it’s an extraordinary story that Pierre Berton tells full-length and undoctored (one might say) for the first time. On one side were the Dionnes, rough-edged, religious French-Canadians: he mocked as a super-stud, she deemed unfit to care for her miraculously identical baby girls—by the very people who drove thousands of miles to watch them play. On the other side was the “quintessential country doctor” Allan Roy Dáfoe, a well-born misfit become a backwoods martinet. (Later, it would count against him that he’d never seen fit to learn French.)

Looking out for the “public interest” was the government of Ontario, which kept the quints under the doctor’s germ-free, arid control for nine years—until a wartime drop in public interest and the clamor for their reunion with their family largely destroyed their value as a tourist attraction. But the bitterest irony is that, once back under one roof with their parents and siblings, the quints were miserable. They had been raised as royal children and were not prepared to be disciplined or to do chores. As psychologist Alfred Adler had warned, the disparity between their lives and their family’s along with their craving for attention, mitigated against “normal human development.” So, though Papo Dionne won the battle for their custody (and saw the despised Dafoe dismissed in semi-disgrace), he lost the war for their allegiance and affection. The three remaining sisters live in obscure, more-or-less impowerished strangement today. This is a dismal but inescapably absorbing story, with the political, social, and psychological implications firmly examined.
Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Barbara Harrison joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1944, at the age of nine, and left in 1956, on the verge of a nervous breakdown. These twelve years were the most traumatic and bizarre phase of a longer search for religious belief that ultimately led her to Catholicism. She is a spontaneous, funny writer and tells her own story engagingly. But she also tries, unsuccessfully, to blend autobiography and muckraking journalism, as she takes us on an exhaustive tour of this alternately fascinating and repellent sect (estimated membership 2,248,000 worldwide).

Because they refuse to bear arms or salute any national flag. Witnesses have been subject to fierce persecution, and Harrison credits them with courage and patience under fire. (Witnesses, she notes, helped to extend civil rights generally by challenging in court all attempts to muzzle them, for example in the Supreme Court’s decisions on compulsory flag saluting.) But for the most part she finds them cold, narrow-minded, lost in absurd apocalyptic fantasies. With meticulous care and thoroughness she documents the contradictions of their scriptures, the cruelty and hypocrisy of their founder, Charles Taze Russell…

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