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Why Joining A Cult of Sustainability Merits Both Warning And Admiration

A few bowls of flour sit out on a table.
Courtesy of Molly Dektar
Dektar draws on her own experience with off-grid shepherding and cheese-making to craft a realistic commune lifestyle in her novel.

In her debut novel “The Ash Family” (Simon & Schuster/ 2019) Durham native Molly Dektar draws on her personal fascination with cult psychology and devout sustainability.

'The Ash Family'  book cover shows rolling hills in many colors.
Credit Courtesy of Molly Dektar
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Courtesy of Molly Dektar
Molly Dektar, like her protagonist, grew up in Durham before seeking out deeper fulfillment through off-grid farming.

The protagonist, Berie, leaves her hometown of Durham to go to college, but she never arrives on campus. The young woman, yearning for “a more essential life,” instead chooses to join an isolated farming community of direct-action environmentalists living near Asheville.

Berie’s daily tasks include shepherding, dumpster-diving and bomb-making. She abandonsselfhood by dropping “fake world” names and histories in favor of the chosen family’s fervent communion. The novel follows Berie’s slow plunge into a culture of patriarchal coercion, however Dektar quietly maintains a level of respect for the community’s applied ideals. Host Frank Stasio talks with Dektar about her own experiences with intentional communities and a zeitgeist of environmental desperation.

Above: Molly Dektar curated a music playlist to accompany "The Ash Family" for Largehearted Boy

Grant Holub-Moorman coordinates events and North Carolina outreach for WUNC, including a monthly trivia night. He is a founding member of Embodied and a former producer for The State of Things.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.