Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso
Warning: This harrowing memoir is the most difficult book I’ve read this year. Since I actually started it in 2012 (highly recommended by one of my editors), it’s actually the most difficult book I’ve read over two years (and more). To get to the final page (or track – narrator Susan Bennett reads with growing desperation, breathily evident especially in the last few chapters) took that long because I had to pause for multiple respites to escape the horror. Once read, you won’t be able to erase the images and words. Ever.
Margaux Fragoso survived 15 years with a pedophile, whom she met at age 7, her abuser 51. The relationship only ended when he committed suicide at 66. No spoilers, by the way. All that is in the Prologue’s first paragraph. “Hoping to make sense of what happened, I began drafting my life story,” Fragoso explains. To read about Fragoso’s mentally unstable mother with her own history of abuse who is hospitalized multiple times, her explosively abusive, philandering father, the other children who fall victim to the pedophile, the multiple failures of both the legal and social services systems to stop the pedophile, is heart-stopping terror.
To help you finish the 300-plus pages (or listen to 12 hours), might I suggest flipping to the Afterword for motivation: “By setting down my memories in this book, I’ve worked to break the old, deeply rooted patterns of suffering and abuse that have dogged my family through generations,” Fragoso writes about the childhood rape of her mother and aunt, ” … the trauma was passed down unchecked. … By insisting on silence and forgetting, my grandparents were probably trying to protect their daughters from more harm, but my own story is proof that they were tragically mistaken.” Silence and denial enable predators to commit their crimes. Fragoso miraculously survived; as that survivor, she charges into brutal battle armed with her most painful memories, hoping to heal herself and help others.
To bear witness as readers is nightmare-inducing, but perhaps necessary … the threat is closer than you may want to know. A parent (and civil rights lawyer!) in our children’s school was recently released, having been imprisoned for a mere five years on child (and infant) pornography charges: “‘… the most perverted and nauseating and sickening type of child pornography … the term ‘child pornography’ does not convey the depravity,'” the sentencing judge warned in 2007. The DC-area-based legendary swim coach who founded what is considered the top private swim club in the country, who coached thousands of swimmers including Olympic gold medalists and world record breakers, was sentenced last month to (only) seven years in jail for abusing one of his swimmers from age 13 until she went to college (supreme irony – here the victim’s last name is Currin, eerily just one letter off from Fragoso’s abuser’s last name, Curran). Silence and denial … you never know …
With sharp clarity and open vulnerability, Fragoso uses her very life to attempt to break the cycle for herself … and hopefully for many, many others.