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An insider's view of Jonestown, with some interesting new slants and, inevitably, more unanswered questions. Feinsod interviewed a last-minute escapee named Odell Rhodes and then wove his account (the first, so far, by a black People's Temple member) into an otherwise unexceptional retelling of the whole affair. Rhodes had been an absolute down-and-outer, a wino-junkie from Detroit, till the ""People's Caravan"" picked him up, whisked him to headquarters in San Francisco, and rehabilitated him. He went to Guyana, worked there enthusiastically, and slipped into the jungle just as ""Dad"" was summoning his followers to revolutionary suicide. Rhodes' story is a dramatic one: a promising Army career soured by racism, a painful divorce, and plain bad luck; the picaresque horrors of street life; conversion and new self-respect in the Temple; the hair-raising, nerve-racking final hours. The only disappointment is that Rhodes was a rather atypical PT character, and so he doesn't shed much light on the group's mentality. He claims he immediately spotted Jones for a con-man (albeit a brilliant one) and always kept his distance from him. He ducked the marathon encounter sessions, tuned out Jones' round-the-clock ravings over the public address system, and never got swept up in the carefully orchestrated paranoia. When everyone around him responded on cue and hastened to the cyanide vat, he quietly balled out. He can't tell us, then, what it was like to be a true believer. Nor was he troubled by some of the glaring inequities at Jonestown. (Why was the power structure lily white? Why did Jones live in luxury? Why did Jones have a harem when many residents were forced into celibacy?) Still, anyone as obviously sane as Rhodes has to rate as an important witness, especially when he says that right up until the end he felt that Jonestown was a going concern. Competent reportage, and a significant item in the already enormous White Night dossier.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1981
Publisher: Norton