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Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  2,556 ratings  ·  361 reviews
A riveting memoir of losing faith and finding freedom while a covert missionary in one of the world's most restrictive countries.

A third-generation Jehovah's Witness, Amber Scorah had devoted her life to sounding God's warning of impending Armageddon. She volunteered to take the message to China, where the preaching she did was illegal and could result in her expulsion or
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by Viking
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
May 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have a feeling this memoir is on the cusp of something really big. If my review is the first you are hearing of it, I think you will be hearing about it again. And again.

Amber Scorah is a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness. Her life is spent believing in Armageddon and spreading the word as a witness. Amber is so devout she moves to China to minister there, where it is illegal to do so.

To do what she did in Shanghai, Scorah had to use fake names and other measures to stay under the
Sep 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
How to Lose Your Family and Friends

Why this book? I thought of why these books are important to read. Not only do they help people who have left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they may save someone from joining this cult. People need to be educated so they won’t join this cult or any other. By reading these kinds of books, you may save yourself or other family members from such folly.

Some religions are worse than others, as I have learned. To me, it all boils down to human decency, how a religion
Amber Scorah’s memoir about leaving one of the most controlling and restrictive of religious organizations, the Jehovah’s Witnesses— a movement that Canadian academic M. James Penton characterizes as “alienated from the world” and “hostile to society in general”—appears to have grown out of an article published in the American bimonthly magazine The Believer..

Ironically, it was Scorah’s travelling with her Jehovah’s Witness husband as a “missionary pioneer” to China, the largest totalitarian
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Never would have guessed that in a book about Jehovah's Witnesses that I would also find a mini historical look back at the beginning of the podcast era AND Alanis Morissette's breakout album "Jagged Little Pill."

This book really checks so many boxes: it's a spy novel, an insider's look at a religious cult, in parts it's even a coming-of-age story. And all along, it's the memoir of one very strong woman. The journey Scorah has been on in life is truly incredible, and she courageously takes you
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
For this one, I felt the author distanced herself too much from her story. It almost felt like she was writing about someone else most of the time. There are some good segments in the book, but overall the writing style was so-so. The author has, however, gone through some dark times and unique challenges and has some valuable perspective to give.
Don Campbell
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was not raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but at the age of 18 I became convinced that they had “the Truth.” But, college, my friends (especially THAT girl), and my mother’s hopes for my future delayed my decision to “give it all up for Jehovah.” But a terrible experience with drugs convinced me that the only way to find happiness was to commit fully to being a Jehovah’s Witnesses at age 20.
Commitment meant dropping out of college even though my education was fully paid for by means of a
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a really interesting memoir, but there were a lot of threads that did not come together for me. She's introspective about leaving her faith, but she is not as introspective about her "loveless marriage" and her dependence on men in every realm of her experience. The end was just thrown on and I won't spoil it, but I just did not at all see it coming and it felt like the entire book could have been written about that because she has her biggest insights about religion then. The book ...more
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction, arc, 2019
If not for all that had happened here, I would not have left my religion. I would certainly still be a Jehovah's Witness had I not come to this country and learned its ways. Perhaps I would have been happier. But no matter what it took to get here, to this breezy corner, or how alone I was among these 1.3 billion people, I felt ecstatic to be free, to have this life. I didn't know who to thank anymore, so I thanked the sky, the trees, the smiles, the sounds – the things I knew to be true.

Jun 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommended to Shelli by: Goodreads Giveaways
Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life is the solidly-written memoir of writer, podcaster, and former Jehovah’s Witness missionary Amber Scorah. Raised as a third-generation Witness and in a loveless marriage, she convinces her husband and the elders of the church to let her move to Asia – a lifelong dream – with her and her husband as missionaries, of course. After a stay in Taiwan, she and her husband land in Shanghai, where Amber – an inherent introvert – finds she has ...more
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was raised a Jehovah's Witness and left the religion when I was 19. Reading this book felt like someone plucked all the thoughts that I had back then but never had the courage to articulate.

One example: When she describes the mind-numbing ritual of district conventions, she says that she wished she had a baby so she had an excuse to get up and wander around. I ALWAYS thought that! I could not stop laughing about that shared commiseration!

This was a triggering but important book for me. I
Jun 29, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: I wouldn’t
2.5 Really wanted to love this book. I bought it immediately after hearing the author’s interview on Fresh Air, because the wait at the library was too long. The book really needed a good editor. Scorah is a good writer, but there was quite a bit of repetition and perhaps it some of it could’ve been avoided if it was written a linear fashion instead of going back-and-forth in time. Yes we get it, you didn’t go to college, and finding a job is hard because JW tells you not to focus on the future. ...more
Jul 11, 2019 rated it liked it
I was hoping this would be more like Troublemaker by Leah Remini, which totally blew my mind about all things Scientology. But I guess Jehovah’s Witnesses are not quite as outrageous as Scientologists, so it just didn’t have the same juicy scandalous feel. :)

It was interesting to learn more about Jehovah’s Witnesses and what they believe, and it was interesting to hear the story of an American who was secretly preaching in China. But then the book just grew less interesting as it went along,
My only experience with Jehovah's Witnesses is through the countless Watchtower and Awake magazines which Witnesses feel the need to regularly leave in the little free libraries in the park near our house. For some reason we no longer have them knocking on our door. I knew little about this religious cult (it does meet this definition) before reading Leaving the Witness.

I was hooked by Leaving the Witness right off the bat. The book opens with author Amber Scorah arriving in Shanghai. To
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic. A MUST READ for any former member of a cult or high demand religion. Honestly, so deeply mirrored my experience of leaving that it was a bit triggering, and also incredibly meaningful to me. This book accurately describes the feeling of emerging from naivete, emerging from a false world into the real world. It's traumatizing and confusing and embarrassing. It is liberating. What you see can't be unseen.
For a memoir about someone leaving a religion and finding a life, I was disappointed to discover that very little of the book focuses on the experience of questioning her beliefs and actually leaving the Jehovah’s Witness religion.

In Leaving the Witness, Scorah recounts some of her childhood and teen years, but she focuses mainly on her time in China as a Jehovah’s Witness. She gives a lot of details about what she did as a Jehovah’s Witness in a foreign country. A lot. She reports on the
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I requested and received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

All Amber Scorah knew was life as a Jehovah's Witness. Brought into the church at a young age by her grandmother, Amber conceived of the world as completely black and white, with JWs being the only people "inside the truth" and the only people who would live eternally. After a youthful indiscretion that almost got her kicked out of the church, she married a fellow JW and they embarked on a life in China as covert missionaries.

Tania Mason
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to enjoy this book. I have read memoirs based on the same premise, but this one just didn't cut it. I couldn't read another "I'm so good at speaking Mandarin." I felt like there was more details in who she spoke to and where she lived rather than the doctrines of a cult. I really struggled with the four relationships with men she described, and then claim she didn't know how to start a new relationship. Then there was a comparison between the Cultural Revolution and her leaving ...more
(3.5) I jumped at the chance to read this due to my interest in women’s religious memoirs. Like In the Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott and Educated by Tara Westover, this is the story of growing up in a cult and what happens when, as an adult, a woman has to build a new life free from the constraints – but also unmoored from the comforting framework – of a previously unquestioned belief system. Scorah grew up in Vancouver’s community of Jehovah’s Witnesses and, although she was temporarily ...more
Kat N
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. Incredibly interesting and eye-opening to see how some people have lived/are living. The author tells her story with insight and wit, and brutal honesty. I laughed and I cried (boy, did I cry), and the descriptions of Shanghai teleported me there instantly. A highly original story that needed to be told. Five stars.
Michael Sclafani
I can’t bring myself to rate a memoir of someone I know personally, but this is a deeply personal book of a truly remarkable person. Mostly, it is about losing one’s anchor in the world, and while her story is so peculiar, it is a feeling I venture we all know well to some extent. I know I do.
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was captivating and compelling. It's hard to critique a memoir as it is the story of someone's life, the ending felt very fast, but again, it's her life, her lived experience, not a story. I hope her life brings her more and more yang as she continues to build her new life. Amber Scorah is a warrior.
Aug 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant and moving book describing the author, who was born into a family immersed in the Jehovah's Witness religion, and how she extricated herself from the cultlike hold of that religion. The gradual discovery that she was in a cult finally made her realize that there was another entire world out there that wasn't in fact evil or born of Satan. Her mind had been shaped and controlled virtually from birth, and there were aspects of the truth that had to be defended according to JW ...more
Penny (Literary Hoarders)
A quick read. Good, but fairly simplistic. Her voice comes across as simple and perhaps immature? A good story about having the courage to leave the Jehovah Witnesses - an incredible accomplishment on her part - she's in China and has the incredible courage to leave her religion, her husband, move to New York and rebuild her life outside of the Witnesses. Not faulting that aspect at all, I just felt the writing was fairly simplistic and sometimes immature?
Jun 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
---- Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. ----

So, this is kind of hard to review. First off, I'd like to be clear that it was really good. A very unique memoir in which I really can't find anything to fault. It covers her early life in the Jehovah's Witness world, & how she ended up in China, of all places. Then it moves into the even more engaging ways that being a secret missionary in an openly restrictive (oddly enough, not an oxymoron) country allowed her what she

Jul 13, 2019 rated it liked it
I heard a few interviews with Scorah in the past few weeks, most lengthily the Fresh Air in which she appeared. There was nothing in the story that I hadn't heard in an interview, but it was fascinating and well told.
My only quibble was the pacing - I knew about her family tragedy, and when I found myself on page 253 of a 279 page book without it being introduced, I knew it was going to be glossed over, and it was. I wish that she'd either expanded that section, or addressed it in a later book.
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I saw Amber Scorah interviewed on The Daily Show and was immediately intrigued by both her and her story. The next day I ordered her book. I read it in three days.

Although I keep it kind of quiet, I'm very anti-religion(s). I think most all of them have done far more harm to the world than good. I've read many books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and others that have helped crystallize and legitimize my thoughts. So the topic at the core of Leaving the Witness appealed to me strongly.

Although the
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Book Court - Where I'm the Judge and Jury

CHARGE (What is the author trying to say?): To describe leaving the Jehovah Witness lifestyle.

FACTS: Amber and her husband traveled to China as Jehovah Witness missionaries. Their marriage was over but their religion bound them together. “I was not allowed to leave him, so perhaps if I left enough places with him, it would suffice.” She had given up a career, education, financial security, and close personal relationships to save souls from destruction.
Kevin Ashby
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A startling personal memoir by a remarkably charismatic young woman. Vacillating between rebellion and acquiescence Ms. Scorah finds herself in China where she finds her faith crumbling under the weight of a failing marriage, newfound freedom from a controlling congregation, and her own burgeoning success. The author is brave enough to even explore those things in herself that are perhaps unflattering and that just adds to the power of her story.
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book on so many levels. It is a coming of age story of someone who loses faith in her religion. But it is also a fascinating look at a missionary's life in China.
Jan 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
3.5 stars

An interesting memoir about Amber’s embracing of, then turning from, being a Jehovah’s Witness.

What I found interesting:
* learning what JWs believe, how all-encompassing and authoritarian the religion is; their obligations to their religion and how proselytizing is managed
* how a white, western woman acculturated to China
* how the JWs sought to secretly convert the Chinese despite their religion being banned in the country

What I wasn’t crazy about:
* some of the writing... in a few
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Amber Scorah is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, Gothamist, and Believer magazine.

Amber became a parental leave advocate after the loss of her son Karl on his first day in childcare, and was named one of the 100 most influential people in Brooklyn culture by Brooklyn Magazine.

Before coming to New York City, Amber lived in Shanghai, where
“Absurdity becomes truth when enough people agree to it, and to not do so then becomes what is irrational.” 7 likes
“So long as the burden of proof remains with the critic, a cult can never lose.” 4 likes
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