Leaving Shangrila by Isabelle Gecils

Leaving Shangrila

The True Story of a Girl, Her Transformation and Her Eventual Escape
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KIRKUS REVIEW

The poignant life story of a woman who escaped a restrictive past to embrace an independent future.   

Gecils’ inspirational debut memoir, 11 years in the making, is both an astute character study and a harrowing familial drama that plays out in the lush environs of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The author grew up as a middle child; she had two sisters, although she says her mother secretly wished for sons. In order to support the family, the author’s father became a software programmer at IBM and traveled a great deal; their lonely mother dejectedly handed off child-rearing responsibilities to a maid, a nanny, and the children’s grandparents. Desperate for acceptance, Gecils’ mother reached out to the superstitious spiritual sects in Rio for direction and embarked on a long-term, clandestine affair as her daughters attended a local French private school. The author’s misery escalated, she says, when her mother unceremoniously whisked her and her sisters to Shangrila, a cramped, isolated “make-shift farm” in the Brazilian forest, with their staunchly pious new stepfather, Lauro, who pursued a delirious mission to father the next “Messiah.” Gecils’ experience becomes gradually more harrowing as she finds herself a virtual prisoner on the farm. The author paces her personal narrative well, taking time to describe both the history of her family and of Brazil’s capital city. She also reveals details of her religious indoctrination at the hands of her mother and stepfather; they urged her to see prophetic visions at the cult’s meetings, she says, and she became further isolated after her biological father remarried and severed ties. She also dealt with sexual abuse, domestic violence, and bullying, which led her to make plans for a new life, unencumbered by her militant stepfather’s rules. Gecils’ resonant chronicle explores themes of belonging, family allegiance, and starting over. As it does so, it effectively tells the story of the burgeoning liberation of a young girl who had her eye on a bright horizon.

A well-paced memoir steeped in strife, struggle, sorrow, and, eventually, freedom.

Pub Date: May 10th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63047-684-7
Page count: 340pp
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
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