Anatomy of a Life Possessed
by Maria Ferrara Pema
Winner Episode Press
This is a confoundingly difficult book to both read and to review. The cover proclaims “…this intriguing tale of a woman victimized by peculiar forces, that reads like a work of fiction, that is unusual but true.” The book recounts the life of Pema, a woman who was “possessed” by the ailing spirit of an ill man by the will of a religious man named Friar G. The possession causes the author great mental and bodily pain, emotional torment and sexual addiction. Voices in her head chatter constantly, her limbs ache, and she is led to believe that focusing her sexual energy via orgasm will aid in the recovery of both her ill husband and the sick man whose illness she has inherited.
Either this is a work of fiction — and if so, it has been done far better many times before (The Exorcist, for example) — or the author truly believes she was (or is, you aren’t really quite sure) possessed upon orders of “Friar G.” Mental illness can take many forms, and imagined “possession,” while not as frequent in modern times as it was centuries ago, is still heard of. The combination of Pema’s writing ability and the fact that English is not her primary language (she is Polish), makes the book a choppy, disorienting sprawl. She seems to flit from a career as a ballet dancer to an actor in the Italian film industry (appearing, she claims, in Frederico Fellini’s Satyricon), with stops along the way for a marriage, attachments to various gurus — Pema seems to have never met a belief system she didn’t like, or at least try — and it all becomes bewildering after a point, and rather hard to follow.
The second half of the book is described as a “self help” book, in which the author attempts to save other people from the fates she described earlier. What this section actually becomes is an extended rant against organized religion, the Catholic church in particular. She relates the saga of Padre Pio, Friar G’s mentor, a rather unsavory character. In this day and age of the scandals attached to the church, her descriptions of a rampantly horny priest abusing female parishioners doesn’t surprise us, but you do wish for a bit more “help” and less hatred.
Bookstore shelves have long been littered with fantastic tales of possession and torment, and most are denoted as nonfiction, but it is up to the judgement (or gullibility) of the reader to believe the claims or not. This book seems to be one of the new breed of POD (print on demand) books, where an author, unsuccessful in getting a publishing house to release their work, does so on their own. This is not to be taken as a statement of the book’s worth — plenty of fine books don’t, for whatever reason, capture the attention of publishing houses — but when the book in question is as unreal as this, it does make you think that perhaps the major book houses were right on this one. Either you believe Pema’s tale of a life in anguish, or you don’t. But either way, the author of this book has serious issues she needs to confront and defeat. Here’s hoping she does — before she writes again.