I've said before that I am fascinated by what makes people tick. Some people want to understand cold fusion, dark matter, or internal combustion. I want to understand the motives of humans. It was that interest that caused me to read Tiger, Tiger - the first-person account of a young girl who spent 14 years under the special attention of a pedophile. Her parents suspected, but ultimately did not interfere.
Fragoso tells her story very matter-of-fact. She doesn't read into other people's motives, she tells what she remembers and what she experienced, and leaves it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. And she resists the urge to editorialize after-the-fact, she doesn't diagnose or excuse or browbeat the characters of her past, she tells the events as she experienced them as a child, not as she has (obviously) come to understand them as an adult.
This book is not for the faint of heart. The writing is compelling - I had a hard time putting it down - which made it even more uncomfortable to read about the experiences of this child. Fictional characters are fascinating, but I could not forget for a second that I was reading about true events. I sometimes felt ill, reading about the pain that surrounded her, and I cringed when her only reliable source for affection was a sick man who called his abuse love. There were so many missed opportunities to save this child. I'm not sorry I read it, but I do hope to never to read anything like it again.
People are often shocked that the child victims of abuse don't tell their parents or other adults what has/is happening to them. Even under pressure, these young victims will protect the person who is hurting them most. After reading Tiger, Tiger, I'm no longer surprised. This book is a frightening look at how this kind of abuse can actually seem better than home, and how a vulnerable child can find it hard to give up even a twisted kind of love if it means none at all. The perpetrator is not painted as a monstrous, inhuman figure. Rather, he is a pathetic and all-to-human man who actually tries to get help, though he's never willing to give up his "special friend".
It matters that this is non-fiction. It matters that Fragoso was brave enough to re-live this, and share it with us. I've read tons of fiction that made me happy, angry, frustrated and sad. With this book, I could only ache for the truth of this little girl's life. Anger was useless, and pity seemed an insult to the woman she's become. I applaud her writing, and her commitment to protecting future children from the horror she suffered by illustrating the need for treatment of the perpetrators as well as the victims. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending - we are left with the image of Margaux, grown up and healing. Hope makes the ugly truth a little easier to take.
This review was originally published in April 2011, and has been updated for the January 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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