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A Father's Cruel Mission To Create 'The Only Girl In The World'

Maude Julien's childhood was so horrible, it's difficult to read about. Her father wanted to turn her into some kind of superhuman, able to withstand any torment without flinching. So he treated her in a subhuman way: He forced her to stay in a dark cellar at night, to meditate on death. He made her hold on to an electric fence, to strengthen her will. She had to wait on him hand and foot. And he kept her from most contact with the outside world for years.

Julien somehow survived, and escaped to become a world-renowned psychotherapist — and to write her new memoir, The Only Girl in the World. She says her story really begins with her mother. "My father took my mother away from her family when she was 6 years old," she says. Her father made a deal with her mother's impoverished parents: I'll give your daughter a good education, but you will never see her again. "He sent my mother to the university ... so that when he would later have a daughter, the little girl would not have to go to school. And my father's mission was to create a superhuman uncorrupted by this world."

Interview Highlights

On her father's ideas about weakness and strength

My father believed the world was divided between those who were mentally and physically strong, and those who were weak and lazy. For this I had to undergo physical and psychological training.

From the age of 6 I had to spend one night a month in the basement, meditating on death. I sat on a stool, alone, in the dark, surrounded by rats, and I had a cardigan with small bells on it. I wasn't allowed to let the bells tinkle, as it meant that I was moving. It was one of his exercises.

On her father's violence

There was a lot of violence in what my father made me do. We could describe it as sadistic. For him, violence was meant to make me stronger, and to remind me that life was horrible.

My father had a megalomaniac personality, and from a psychopathological point of view, we consider that he was paranoiac.

On still having nightmares about her father

Oh, for a very very very long time, because you know, this kind of controlling, psychological indoctrination is very very difficult to overcome. So I had to learn a lot to get out of my mental prison. I needed to understand what happened to me, and eventually, I became a psychotherapist, and I have now been working for 23 years in order to help victims get out of the basement.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.