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Leaving the Witness by Amber Scorah
Memoir

Leaving the Witness

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Amber Scorah, on your first book!

by Amber Scorah

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Quick take

An inside-look at the life of a Jehovah's Witness.

Synopsis

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 worse. Here, she had some distance from her community for the first time. Immersion in a foreign language and culture—and a whole new way of thinking—turned her world upside down, and eventually led her to lose all that she had been sure was true.

As a proselytizer in Shanghai, using fake names and secret codes to evade the authorities' notice, Scorah discreetly looked for targets in public parks and stores. To support herself, she found work at a Chinese language learning podcast, hiding her real purpose from her coworkers. Now with a creative outlet, getting to know worldly people for the first time, she began to understand that there were other ways of seeing the world and living a fulfilling life. When one of these relationships became an "escape hatch," Scorah's loss of faith culminated in her own personal apocalypse, the only kind of ending possible for a Jehovah's Witness.

Shunned by family and friends as an apostate, Scorah was alone in Shanghai and thrown into a world she had only known from the periphery—with no education or support system.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Leaving the Witness.
Leaving the Witness
The first thing I saw when I arrived in Shanghai was a fight on the street. People had extracted themselves from the masses on all sides to watch, standing like awkward party guests. Cyclists held up their black bicycles by the handlebars, pedestrians dallied, their hands full of thin plastic bags from the market. As the momentum of the city pushed against those who were stationary, people spilled over onto the street, like water around rocks. Our taxi driver slowed the car to look. In the center of the crowd, a man and a woman were arguing. The people who had paused to take in this (as I would come to learn) common spectacle were silent as the parties involved shouted, laying out their dispute. No fist was raised—though fights on the street were common in Shanghai, at least in those days when tension felt so high, they rarely came to blows—and no intervention was undertaken by the crowd. But the two piqued bodies were electric, their muscles tensed with adrenaline and the faces above them contorted in pent-up anger. This restraint was more arresting than a punch or shove would have been. A slap of flesh to cheekbone would have provided a moment of relief; a blow would have forced a climax, a gasp, some kind of release, after which the paused city could transform itself back into its loud moving swarm. Bodies would move on, shopping bags would sag to rest on kitchen counters. But this simmering, unrequited tension, it was in the bones of the place.

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Why I love it

What makes a life worth reading about? My checklist looks something like this: Is the narrator probing and self-aware? Is there an intriguing hook? Is there some element of this story that is unlike my own? And finally, above all, does the writer know how to tell a good story? With Leaving the Witness, Amber Scorah checks all these boxes.

In Leaving the Witness, Scorah recounts her life as a born and raised Jehovah’s Witness. From her childhood visiting Kingdom Hall, to her early adulthood preaching in China, to her eventual departure from the faith in her 30s, Scorah reveals what it’s like to belong to—and depart—an enclosed community. When Scorah leaves her religion—an act that isolates her from her family and friends—she finds herself alone, unmoored, and seeking a new life.

I hesitate to call this a “tell-all,” because it never feels scandalous. Scorah is a compassionate narrator who recognizes the appeal of following an insular religion even though she ultimately realized her faith did not accommodate her radically expanding worldview. If you like stories about faith, identity, censorship, and starting over, then this is the book for you.

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Member ratings (638)

  • Stephanie I.

    Stafford Springs, CT

    I don't think it even took 1 page to get drawn into this book. It made me angry, sad, and amazed all at the same time. I felt deeply for Amber and all she went through, yet still figured out a way ♥️

  • Brittany A.

    Asheville, NC

    Heart-wrenching and honest, this memoir of leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses -- the isolation and feeling of being adrift while trying to make a new life in Shanghai -- is raw and completely worth it.

  • Lexi L.

    Nashville, TN

    I read this in one day. The topics hit so close to home, and I was amazed that Amber didn’t write with any blame or resentment. She was always willing to accept the consequences to her choices.

  • Lauren M.

    Alpena, MI

    A gripping memoir about a woman who leaves the insular community of Jehovah's Witnesses while working as a missionary in China. I gained a lot of cultural insight. Her transformation was poignant.

  • Jasmine L.

    Denver, CO

    I was raised in the Jehovah Witness community and deeply related to her story. It was beautifully written and really captured the isolation and beauty of discovering who you are away from it all.

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