Book Review – The Patron Saint of Butterflies
Reviewed by Edward A. Lottick, M.D.
A charming book of such graphic realism described as fiction must at the very least be tangentially based upon personal experience of the author, however indirect. I first read Cecelia Galante’s fascinating book in the summer of 2008, about two months after publication. On my very long and otherwise mundane plane flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, the book was a great diversion. Unfortunately, I did not write any notes while I was reading. I put the book aside during a very full schedule writing a book of my own, and I did not undertake a reread until January of 2009.
This time, enmeshed in the intriguing story of two early adolescent girls at a commune in Fairfield, Connecticut, I researched the book further and took some notes. The story line progresses in alternating chapters told by Agnes, the believer, and Honey, the skeptic. Agnes’ parents, who are also devout followers of Emmanuel, the leader of the commune, are tightly programmed and controlled; while Honey, the skeptic, abandoned at the commune shortly after birth, is a more earthly rebel.
To give you a sample from the story: Agnes’ grandmother, Nana Pete, from Texas, turns up unexpectedly. Similar to me in age, she is my favorite character. Nana Pete is just learning about the punishment room behind Emmanuel’s quarters. As it is becoming clear that she will have to rescue Agnes, Honey, and Agnes’ young brother, Benny, Benny is suddenly severely injured when a steel door slams shut and crushes his fingers.
The above are the book’s main characters, but it also is populated by many others who are clearly and interestingly presented. The title, The Patron Saint of Butterflies, is charming but gives little indication of what to expect in this well-told tale. However, I can promise you more than a glimpse of an authoritarian, totalist cult and some pretty rigid mind control, punctuated by illustrative sadistic corporal, mental, and, if you will, spiritual punishment. Despite some necessary horror, the book is tastefully written with a young audience in mind. Such things do still take place in the 21st century, and many persons are totally unaware. I would categorize this book as a must read for teens to grandparents and all in between.
The Patron Saint of Butterflies would make a great movie; it fits well with the current movie-going audience. The author conveys graphic visual images, and the staging would be quite manageable and not need a massive budget. It is a tale well worth promulgation.
International Journal of Cultic Studies ■ Vol. 1, No. 1, 2010