REVIEW: An Oral History of One Day in Guyana by Shannon Frost Greenstein


Review by Amy Wilson

In “An Oral History of One Day in Guyana,” Shannon Frost Greenstein begins her story in 2018 with Aisha Allen, sitting down with a reporter after 50 years of silence on the subject that changed her life, Jonestown. Aisha is nervous but determined to share her family’s story, recounting how she and twin sister, Imani, became involved with the People’s Temple in Spring of 1965.

Incorporating an astonishing number of poetic forms and structures, Greenstein tracks the sisters’ involvement from 1965 to 2018. She also includes a final obituary from the future in 2053. In the space of less than 30 pages, Greenstein spanned decades of storytelling by creating artifacts including police transcripts, diary entries, letters, physician’s charts, reporter’s transcripts/archives, and traditional third-person narration. Each segment includes a date, source, and the reporter or other professional’s name(s) to inform the reader of the perspective shift. The many formats helpfully remind the reader that the massacre impacted the lives of hundreds of people across the globe. This global tragedy connected reporters of small presses to major newspapers, politicians, social justice activists, detectives, and importantly, family members like Aisha and real-life reporters such as Reiterman, referenced by Greenstein.

Throughout the book, the reader comes to understand the complicated relationship between Aisha and Imani. We recognize their bond to one another and the deep pain caused from their separation. We can sympathize with both sisters’ worries – Imani’s fear of stagnation by staying in Indiana and Aisha’s worry of exploitation and instability from leaving. We can also see that Imani wasn’t a thoughtless follower (as cult members are often described), but a passionate crusader for the integration and equality that Jones spoke about. Tragically, Imani’s restless search for justice delivers her into an exploitative cult while Aisha’s decision to stay behind means a lonely and painful safety. Again, Greenstein has widened the lens on the tragedy to show the losses beyond the massacre in Guyana.Beyond choosing new subjects (aside from Jones), Greenstein subverts the story’s usual culmination. Instead of the action evaporating after the massacre of 1978, the reader follows as Aisha Allen narrates on the legacy and outcomes of the events decades afterwards. Despite its short length, readers of “An Oral History of One Day in Guyana” will consider questions of survival, instinct, family, grief and more stretched across decades, continents, and backgrounds.


Shannon Frost Greenstein is the author of “The Wendigo of Wall Street,” a forthcoming novella with Emerge Literary Journal, “An Oral History of One Day in Guyana,” a fiction chapbook with B*llshit Lit, “These Are a Few of My Least Favorite Things,” a full-length collection of poetry from Really Serious Literature, and “Pray for Us Sinners,” a short story collection by Alien Buddha Press.She has been a multi-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, a SAFTA writer-in-residence, and a NASA social media intern. Shannon resides in Philadelphia with her children and soulmate, where she works as a writer and freelancer. She writes literary fiction, CNF, satire, poetry, and anything else which needs to be said. #RiseUp


Amy Wilson is a graduate of Carleton College who has found a home in Philadelphia. She loves the Free Library of Philadelphia and finds joy in managing Hilltop Books, a project of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library.