Joy & Sorrow: The story of an Exclusive Brethren Survivor is Joy Nason’s personal account of breaking free from the tight grip of the Exclusive Brethren, a fundamentalist religious group likened to a cult in the book. In Joy & Sorrow, Joy recounts the years of torment that resulted from being born into the Exclusive Brethren.
Joy’s story begins in Bristol in 1943. Although she was born in the midst of World War II, it wasn’t the war that would leave emotional scars but another powerful influence in her young life – the Exclusive Brethren. As she puts it, “slowly but surely the idea of the Devil getting me if I sinned became well established.”
The book details the Exclusive Brethren’s strong hold. Fear used to stop her doing anything the Exclusive Brethren deemed forbidden; even reading a novel or seeing a movie wasn’t allowed and could evoke dire consequences.
In 1953 Joy moved to Australia, under the strict and watchful eye of the Exclusive Brethren, with her family (those that weren’t being shunned already) to build a life in Sydney. It is here that a young Joy mustered the courage to leave the Exclusive Brethren. She fled in the middle of the night never to return, knowing she’d never be able to contact any family member still in the Exclusive Brethren, including her mother.
From that moment on, after being so wholly oppressed by the views and beliefs of the Exclusive Brethren, Joy Nason has led a full life of career successes, travel, friends and adventure. Running parallel to her stories of the Exclusive Brethren are these enriching and inspiring parts of Joy’s life.
With a conversational tone, it’s an easy book to read, although at times the subject matter is not – I found myself grimacing more than once at the display of cruelty by the Exclusive Brethren. From making children put pets to sleep (when it was decided pets were against the religion) to tearing families apart through excommunication.
I was struck with a morbid fascination while reading about the seemingly obscure and severe traditions of the Exclusive Brethren. The end of the book, which outlines how and why various media spotlights have now been shone on the Exclusive Brethren practices, is particularly interesting. Joy Nason’s story of striving for freedom is a compelling read and provides insight into an otherwise secretive group in society.
Jessica Anscombe is a library officer in Sydney with a passion for reading and writing. She is currently undertaking a Masters of Information Studies.