Blest Atheist

Non-Fiction - Religion/Philosophy
260 Pages
Reviewed on 04/30/2009
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Anne Boling for Readers' Favorite

Elizabeth Mahlou grew up in an abusive home. She tells of her mother stabbing her brother with a knife in the buttocks, and her father throwing a pitchfork and stabbing him with it. Taking an airplane ride had a whole new meaning in this family. The abuse was physical, emotional, and sexual. “The wounds were in the heart and mind and covered parts of the body.” Like most bullies, their mother blamed them for the pain she inflicted.

Did Mahlou’s mother have PMDD? Possibly, however, medicine was not available at that time. Elizabeth knew that she had a problem with rage. She took it out in different ways. She did not beat her children. She believes that rage can be inherited. Perhaps it can, or perhaps it is a learned trait.

I can hardly blame her for the sermon the young Elizabeth unleashed on the congregation of her church. She must have seen them as evil to sit by and allow the abuse to continue. She saw them as hypocrites. Mahlou turned her back on God, because she thought he had turned his back on her.

Mahlou continues to share bits and pieces of her adult life, including her stint in the army. She speaks of her handicapped children. Mahlou fought for equality for her children. Time after time, things happened that many would call coincidences. Eventually, Elizabeth Mahlou came to know them as blessings from God.

One of the most astute statements in this book is “There is a clear difference between an easy life and a good life.” Elizabeth’s life has not been, easy but her adult years have been good.

Blest Atheist is an unusual book. Elizabeth Mahlou has led an unusual life. It is easy to see how intelligent she is. 2/3 or more of this book is spent discussing her childhood. I hope that putting all of that terrible time on paper gives her closure. Many would never be able to forgive such abuse. As Elizabeth has discovered, with God all things are possible. I wish her well and all of God’s blessings.

Julie L. Pogue

Dr. Elizabeth Mahlou is a brilliant woman who has led an absolutely fascinating life. Her public life includes a Ph.D., proficiency in myriad languages, teaching, consulting, published books, and a life of world travel. Personally, she lived through horrid abuse in her childhood. And as an adult has raised four children, two of whom are physically and/or mentally challenged. In addition, during the Cold War she was a conduit for the miraculous intervention of United States medical professionals in the lives of two Russian children, surely facing death in their native land.

For all the above reasons, her story is truly remarkable. The same strengths that make her story worth reading, however, become a double-edged sword in a memoir. Dr. Mahlou attempts to take on an incredibly detailed re-telling of her life's most formative moments. Instead of a memoir, though, she delivers an auto-biography, heavy on details with a choppy flow; the specific academic-like detail of places, times, and names did little to move the story forward.

Almost from page one, I wished Mahlou had told her narrative in a linear, chronological order. Because explanations of her atheist beliefs were usually prefaced or shadowed in hindsight of her subsequent conversion, it made her unbelief unbelievable. The evolution and growth of her faith, especially blooming from outright atheism, would have been more credible had we been allowed to see the true depths of her emotional depravity.

Because her story compelled me to keep reading, in the end I longed for more exposition on specifics "chucks" of her life. In other words, I finished the last page thinking "I wish `Dr. Beth' had written one book on her experiences as a mother of special needs children. And another book about her life in Siberia. And another one detailing her rescue of Shura. And yet another about her extraordinary childhood."

And while the abuse her parents perpetrated upon their eight children was horrendous, the author was so redundant in her descriptions that it often detracted from an otherwise poetic, innocent recollection of her youth. For example, on page 79, Dr. Mahlou writes of farm life's joys and blessings, "Picking berries and grapes was one of life's sweetest pleasures for me as a child because one picked alone and was left for a while with vines and sun for companionship in the quiet delight that accompanies lack of abuse." I wanted her to stop focusing on that particular aspect of her past and move on to something hopeful by page 80.

Mahlou shows great promise as a writer, and I look forward to reading more of her work as she hones her narrative skills and moves from academia into the world of a storyteller.

Brendan M. Howard

Elizabeth Mahlou's autobiography and tale of coming to believe in God has a lot going for it.

Her candid descriptions of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of relatives gripped this reader in a flood of sympathy and horror. Mahlou's great reserve of optimism and compassion as child and adult seems initially boastful. But in light of her life of childhood trauma, physically and mentally challenged children of her own, her commendable hunt for intellectual success, and a cycle of poverty that she constantly fights to escape, readers will find themselves rooting for Mahlou more than most any other autobiographical subject in English letters. The story of her hurts and triumphs, unlike those of writers reeling from the obscene horrors of the Holocaust, horrific genocidal wars, or horrendous serial killing drama, is scary in its possibility. Parents who don't know how not to hit their kids? Medical and educational leaders who blindly try to force or refuse treatment to her children? These are realities for many, and her strength will be succor to those fighting against establishment figures.

But Mahlou's chief reason for writing this very personal tale is not to offer succor, but to tell the story of how an atheist came to believe in God. As a very intelligent, very compassionate nonbeliever-turned-Christian, Mahlou is a captivating example of religion's pull even for those who aren't writhing in self-pity, aren't blind to all but childish reasons for religious belief, and aren't obediently following their parents' and parents' parents belief systems.

This is a tale of belief hard-fought-against, wisely considered, and spiritually experienced.