The BookBrowse Review

Published September 16, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

Dancing with the Octopus
A Memoir of a Crime
by Debora Harding
22 Sep 2020
384 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN-13: 9781635576122
Genre: Biography/Memoir
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For readers of Educated and The Glass Castle, a harrowing, redemptive and profoundly inspiring memoir of childhood trauma and its long reach into adulthood.

One Omaha winter day in November 1978, when Debora Harding was just fourteen, she was abducted at knifepoint from a church parking lot. She was thrown into a van, assaulted, held for ransom, and then left to die as an ice storm descended over the city.

Debora survived. She identified her attacker to the police and then returned to her teenage life in a dysfunctional home where she was expected to simply move on. Denial became the family coping strategy offered by her fun-loving, conflicted father and her cruelly resentful mother.

It wasn't until decades later - when beset by the symptoms of PTSD- that Debora undertook a radical project: she met her childhood attacker face-to-face in prison and began to reconsider and reimagine his complex story. This was a quest for the truth that would threaten the lie at the heart of her family and with it the sacred bond that once saved her.

Dexterously shifting between the past and present, Debora Harding untangles the incident of her kidnapping and escape from unexpected angles, offering a vivid, intimate portrait of one family's disintegration in the 1970s Midwest.

Written with dark humor and the pacing of a thriller, Dancing with the Octopus is a literary tour de force and a groundbreaking narrative of reckoning, recovery, and the inexhaustible strength it takes to survive.

"[I]ntense...This moving story of grit and resilience will resonate with readers long after the final page is turned." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A powerful account of sexual assault and decades of lingering trauma...A thoughtfully told story that may inspire others to find healing in the wake of savage crime." - Kirkus Reviews

"Compelling… Harding is completely honest, whether describing her wariness, defiance, bewilderment, self-doubt, or the truths she eventually discovered about herself and her parents. Her unsparing and candid observations allow readers to really get to know this strong, determined survivor." - Booklist

"Dancing with the Octopus is a brave and authentic picture of the tailwinds of trauma, the limits of human forgiveness and what it takes to maintain hope in a world bent on breaking us. Highly readable, and deeply moving." - Rachel Louise Snyder, award-winning author of No Visible Bruises

"A gripping account of one woman's confrontation with the terror and heartbreak of her past. Harding combines true crime and family saga to illustrate the aftershocks of trauma, and the courage, tenderness, and humor that recovery requires." - Melissa Febos, author of Abandon Me

"Debora Harding writes with a stunningly original mixture of insight, wit, and humanity about a life packed with so much drama, loss and resilience that you can't believe it's not an epic work of fiction." - Kate Weinberg, author of The Truants

Debora Harding has had varied professional experiences including work in national U.S. politics for ten years, co-founding the UK's first local terrestrial television station, and management of a bicycle business. Her work has been published in the Guardian, the Daily Mail, and elsewhere. The mother of two children, she spent her childhood in Nebraska and Iowa, and now lives in England with her British husband, the writer Thomas Harding.

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