I’m using this for my “New Series” bingo square. This is the first in a planned trilogy of novels about “the cult on Fog Island.”
Originally written in Swedish, this novel takes place on an island off the mainland of Sweden where an idealistic group of people adhere to the principles of Via Terra – a way of living that returns to the earth. Sofia is a young woman who is searching for something, and she finds it at a lecture about Via Terra by a handsome young man. After completing the study of “The Theses,” which is what public citizens are invited to do on the island, Sofia is recruited into becoming a staff member and is charged with creating a library.
Originally, Sofia finds much to like about the group. Everyone outside of the manor grounds where they are based refers to the group as a cult, but that is not her experience. She finds friends and even love among the group. She spends time creating a library and thinking about books, which is her dream job. There are aspects she doesn’t appreciate – like the monastic lodging and the constant surveillance, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal at first.
Then, things start to change. Gradually, the personality of the group begins to change from a bunch of people seeking truth to a genuine cult run by a tyrant who rules by fear and punishment. When Simon, the man responsible for growing the food on the island, is put “On Penance,” the food becomes inedible. When people make mistakes or disappoint the leader, they are humiliated. Sometimes, they are physically assaulted. They are made to run everywhere and eat only rice and beans. They sleep on the floor in the barn. And they do the most menial work, like scrubbing toilets with a toothbrush.
If this sounds familiar to you, then you, like me, are interested in the narratives about Scientology. In fact, as I read this book, I kept thinking, “This sounds exactly like Scientology.” Then I discovered that Lindstein is a former Scientologist, and the second novel is a fictional narrative inspired by the lengths to which Scientology goes to silence their critics and reclaim those who have escaped.
If you like cults (like I do), this is a very fun read. It’s familiar, and also very new. Sofia is a relatable character, and it adds to the story of what it means to be in a high-control group to hear the perspective of someone within the group. She often pauses to reflect on why she’s behaving in ways that are contradictory to her nature in favor of preserving the group. That’s the thing that’s hardest for me to understand about the experience inside cults – how are people changed. This is one perspective, and it definitely makes me curious to read more.