The Last Days: A memoir of faith, desire and freedom

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The Last Days: A memoir of faith, desire and freedom

The Last Days: A memoir of faith, desire and freedom

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This is a very important story to tell and I commend Ali Millar on doing so and hopefully giving courage to others who are still enmeshed in the Jehovah’s Witness network who would like to escape. The end of Millar’s faith comes in a truly appalling scene in which three elders (all men, naturally, as Jehovah seems to regard women as second-rate) quiz her about her premarital sex life. On a scale of one to five, she is asked, how much pleasure did she get from heavy petting and what did it consist of? Somehow the fact that this is in her own Edinburgh living room – or in the 21st century come to that – makes it seem even more grotesque. Believe me, it gets even worse. Yet still Millar wants to stay loyal to her faith and to make her marriage work. ‘[Actually,’ one of the elders says, ‘it’s up to your husband to decide what happens next. It’s not your decision to make.’

Their whole belief system is strange, the way the elders have eyes like Big Brother, and how every other Witness is like an East German spy, ready to throw each other under the bus at the first sign of public sin. The kind of “loving” way they cut people off and then claim victimhood is truly something difficult to explain to outsiders. Millar was just nine months old when her mother (a former teacher) became one of the church’s 8.7 million members. She had been abandoned by the father of her five-year-old daughter, Zoe, and then by Ali’s dad (who turned out to have a wife and child elsewhere). The seductive lies of unreliable men had left her flailing and the church promised support, forgiveness and routine. The rug would never be pulled out from under her again because the business of the church was preparing believers for God’s ultimate, imminent rug pull. Jehovah’s Witnesses “don’t believe in heavenly hope”, explains Millar. Instead they believe that “Jehovah has anointed 144,000 humans to serve at His side for all eternity. Every­one who survives His ­coming judgment will live forever on earth.” That balance runs throughout the book. Later on, there are moments when the secular world seems about to take over: John Peel, Catcher in the Rye, the first fumblings of sex, parties with boys, Malibu and Newcastle Brown. But then, because a real, lived life is chaotic, messy and unpredictable, and rarely runs straight, those roads aren’t taken. Her student days – the time of maximum freedom for most people – lead to marriage to a would-be Witness elder and motherhood. There even are times when a future as a Watchtower-toting Stepford wife looks a distinct possibility.As an ex-Witness I found this book about being a Jehovah’s Witness, and then leaving, incredibly moving. I sometimes think books like this can’t be fully appreciated by anyone else other than ex-Witnesses, seeing as it’s such a peculiarly cultural thing.

Growing up as a Jehovah's Witness and leaving the community when I was 14, I have struggled to find memoirs, if any, that portray the inside of the community as it really is. Most people view Witnesses as quiet but strange with their stances on refusing blood transfusions and not celebrating birthdays and Christmas, but not many people understand the abuse and trauma you can go through when you are a member as well as when you leave. Anorexia became a form of penance. She mortified her flesh until it turned a translucent blue – she felt “angelic”. Starvation made wings of her shoulder blades. At 16, she was hospitalised, but recovered and eventually returned to the faith (marrying and attempting to serve as a submissive wife and mother), before her epiphany in that lavatory. It’s such a joyless world, and there were times when I really felt for Ali Millar - to live in such a culture of judgement, with a controlling husband and being cut off by her mum, who was completely unsympathetic to her plight. Her situation is compounded by being anorexic, and there are some unsettling and detailed descriptions of her illness. There were times when I found book is really hard going. Early YearsAdditionally, as broadcast journalist she has interviewed numerous authors including Rachel Cusk, Amy Liptrot, Etgar Keret and Marina Warner. As event chair she has interviewed at Edinburgh International Book Festival, Camp Good Life and The Social. Written with such powerful emotion, you can feel the fear and bewildering thoughts of the young Ali. How it was drummed into her, how she felt helpless like her life was chosen for her, without having a chance of how she may have wanted her life direction to go. Millar is also talented as respecting individuals. With few exceptions, she insists on understanding where other people are coming from.

I enjoyed how Millar structured her memoir. Because she took on the perspective of her younger self, I felt as if I was learning about the flaws and complications in her faith as she did. There were moments where I could see the real beauty of her childhood religious experiences while also coming to question the toxic and painful aspects of that culture.

I think Ali Millar comes very close in this memoir, identifying the emotions many of us go through at different times, the absolute inner-turmoil of conflict that only ever fades but never goes away after leaving. And there is no one really to blame except the faceless organisation itself, since Witness sincerity is actually a thing, their self-delusion another. A nearly impossible new start … Vanessa Redgrave in the National Theatre adaptation of The Year Of Magical Thinking. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian I found this memoir very brave for the author to write. For me personally reading this it gave me an insight into the life of a member of the Jehovah Witness Kingdom. As journalist, her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Stylist, The Sunday Times and Caught by the River. She has been profiled by The Sunday Times, The Sunday Post and appeared on the BBC World Service, NBC National Australia, Times Radio, and Talk TV. She will appear on a Channel 4 documentary with Rebekah Vardy, recently recorded in the winter of '22. She has read and appeared at festivals and events including Edinburgh International Book Festival, Wigtown Book Festival and Camp Good Life, as well as across digital platforms on podcast, blogs and Youtube channels.

A true tale with names changed of girl Ali now a Lady who grew up with a Mum a sister and the JW's, I'm guessing not many of them will read this but we'll I will let you make your mind up. There is a truth with an honesty rarely seen in these sort of accounts our Heroine Ali makes no secret of her faults or are they her human nature. When searching for something you look everywhere if your honest and this feels very honest. I'm a Christian not a JW I hate religion and the way it destroyed lives. To love is divine fear of Man is not. A lyrical and powerful memoir of leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses, from an exciting new literary talent. Ali is also deeply self-sabotaging. As a teen, she begins counting calories and restricts her eating as a means to exert some control over her own life - leading to anorexia. She drinks to excess, often finding it leads to oblivion or questionable behaviour, but regardless, she quaffs the alcohol down. Finally, although she scoffs at almost everything related to the religion, she takes the step of baptism into the faith which seems completely illogical. While my own religious upbringing was very different and less fire and brimstone, I identified with some of Ali’s story, especially the freedom found in music and the struggle to forge your own identity, exemplified in this powerful line: "One day I'll have a house full of books I want to read and music I want to listen to." I don’t think people who didn’t have an upbringing like ours would really quite understand how important that is.Both my parents were convinced and lifelong Christian Scientists, another (let’s be kind) esoteric American religion. They didn’t believe in doctors, medicine, hospitals: all you had to do if you fell ill was to ‘know the truth’ – that because you were created in the image and likeness of God, and because God is perfect, you couldn’t possibly have cancer, a dodgy heart or whatever ailed you at the time. Every Wednesday evening, they held ‘testimony meetings’ which mainly consisted of members of the congregation standing up and recounting how they’d done just that. I’d recommend this book to many to assist and support them in the healing process of leaving JW organisation if that is what they have decided to do. May Ali’s experiences resonate with others and assist in setting them free from a very unloving organisation. Ali Millar’s true story will stay with me and I do hope that she is able to somehow reconcile the broken relationships that she has had to endure by her leaving, especially that with her mother. These are relationships that are not broken because of Ali’s doing but because of the harsh rules the Jehovah’s Witness organisation imposes on members who leave.

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