In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

In the Country We Love: My Family DividedIn the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero
Published by Henry Holt and Co.

When Diane Guerrero was just fourteen years old, her parents and brother were arrested and deported to Columbia. As Diane herself was born in the US, she was able to stay, finish her education, and pursue her dreams of becoming an actor, eventually landing a roles in the popular TV shows Jane the Virgin and Orange is the New Black. But living apart from her family during her teen years and navigating the world as a teenager by herself changed the trajectory of Guerrero’s life and her relationship to her family.

In the Country We Love is fascinating, horrifying and inspiring all at once and I think it was so brave for Guerrero to put her story out there and share some of the most difficult things she’s ever experienced with the world. This is one of those books that I just want to say “read it” and leave it at that, but there were a few specific things about Guerrero’s story that really stood out to me that I think are worth pointing out.

First of all, when Guerrero’s parents were arrested and removed from their home, not one person from the government reached out to her, checked on her, found her a foster family, took her to see her parents when they were in jail in the US before being deported, NOTHING. She was a child, a United States citizen, who was without any parental support or legal guardian in the country and not one person from immigration, local law enforcement, or the FBI even thought to make sure she was going to survive on her own at fourteen years old. Luckily, her friend’s mother took her in for a few years and then she transitioned to another friend’s family, but I am sure there are plenty of children in a similar situation who don’t have the kind of close friendship network that Guerrero had. It is shocking to me that a child who should be considered a ward of the state by any rational definition wouldn’t be so much as checked on by a representative of the government at any point throughout this process or in the years as she was growing up in the US without a parent or guardian.

Secondly, the degree to which this situation destroyed her family cannot be overstated and I honestly felt that Guerrero glossed over some of the ways in which this negatively affected just about every area of her life, but man was this rough on them. She lost touch with her brother, her brother’s ex-girlfriend, and her niece, she spent years estranged from her mother, not just physically but emotionally as well, her parents eventually divorced (which of course could have happened anyway but the stress of what they went through certainly didn’t help their relationship), and her parents had no significant part of her adolescence and early adulthood. She figured things out on her own and navigated the world in her own way, but the impact that this had on her life is staggering and this is just one person, one story. I can only imagine how many similar stories are out there that are equally or even more devastating.

Guerrero’s story is not all sadness, though, and that is what makes this book so fantastic. She is a very positive person who took a terrifying and sad situation and turned her life into something to be extremely proud of. It’s not just the acting – she became an advocate for other undocumented people and hard for that cause in many ways. She is an inspiring person and the fact that she was able to make her own dreams come true despite the difficulties in her life is inspiring.

The last thing I will say about this book is that the audio is amazing. I typically find that when actors narrate their own books the results are nothing short of great, and that is definitely the case here. She is telling her own story, in her own voice, and that adds so much to this book. If you choose to read In the Country We Love – and you absolutely should – definitely go with the audiobook.

So super highly recommended! If you never read celebrity memoirs, read this one. It shouldn’t even be classified that way, it is so much more than that.

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Mini-reviews – wrapping up 2013 reading part 1

Since my blogging pretty much slowed to a trickle these past few months, there are several books I never got around to reviewing. So here are some brief thoughts on four books I haven’t told you about yet. I’ll be back tomorrow with four more.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of BeliefGoing Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright – This is nonfiction but it might as well be horror because it scared the pants off of me! Not that it’s “scary” in a traditional sense – it’s a book about a religion after all – but the way that this religion developed and grew and got so many people to follow it is terrifying to me. It’s brainwashing, pure and simple, and it’s mind-boggling to me that there are so many Scientologists in the world who actually believe everything L. Ron Hubbard taught. This book is incredibly thorough, the research Wright did is very in-depth, and the writing is excellent. For those interested in learning more about Scientology this is a book not to be missed.

The Sister SeasonThe Sister Season by Jennifer Scott (review copy from the publisher) – I decided to read this one because Jennifer Scott also writes excellent YA fiction under the name Jennifer Brown and I was hopeful that her talent for YA would carry over into women’s fiction. It did, to a degree, as I liked this book about three adult sisters who are forced to spend Christmas week together at their childhood home because their father has just passed away. I thought Scott did a great job with these characters and illustrating the way sister dynamics can be so complicated – these women have true love-hate relationships with one another, and I know that’s the way it is for a lot of sisters. But I didn’t love some elements of the story (to say what would be to spoil things) so overall I didn’t end up loving the book. It was like just not love.

The Space Between UsThe Space Between Us by Jessica Martinez (review copy from SIBA 2012) – another book about sisters, this time it’s YA about Amelia (older, more responsible sister) and Carly (younger, wild sister) and a mistake Carly makes that have huge repercussions for both girls. I liked this one a lot and I think that Martinez can really write teenage girls. She truly gets them, the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that are unique to that period in a girl’s life. The dynamics between these girls were realistic and definitely accurate to real life – I connected with Amelia because as a kid, I was her, and I had a Carly as a sister too (different name, same personality). But there was a big reveal towards the end that I saw coming from miles away, which annoyed me. Overall I’m excited to read more from Martinez even though this book wasn’t perfect.

Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in AmericaFire In the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol – This book absolutely broke my heart, and gave me hope at the same time. I can’t recall ever having read another book by Kozol but I really need to start, as his approach to writing about poverty and education definitely speaks to me. It’s so alarming to realize that so many children in America have to live in atrocious conditions and then can’t even get the education they need and deserve in order to make a better life for themselves. I liked how Kozol showed readers both children who were able to get out of poverty and those who weren’t, and some who tragically died way too young. There is so much sadness in this book but also tiny slivers of hope that left me wanting to read more of Kozol’s work. I listened to the audio of this one and it was excellent.

Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty by Scott C. Todd, PhD.

Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty by Scott C. Todd, PhD.
Published by Compassion
Review copy provided by the publisher

From the publisher:

In this accessible and straightforward book, Dr. Scott C. Todd outlines a battle plan and vision for the war on extreme poverty by pointing out the progress made in the last few decades. Most compellingly, he notes that In 1981, 52% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty (living on less than $1 a day). As of 2005 that number is 26%.

“We have cut the percentage of people living in extreme poverty in half. And we did it in one generation!” the author asserts.

Based on the themes of Isaiah 58, Fast Living presents a theological foundation, hard statistics, and human stories that can motivate a generation of Christians to end extreme global poverty. The book calls the church to lead the war on poverty by fasting and praying, and joining with organizations that are already doing mission and humanitarian work around the world.

Dr. Todd encourages the Christian Church to take its rightful position in the battle against poverty. 100% of the proceeds from Fast Living will benefit children in need.

I have no idea how this book ended up at my house. But it did. The subject definitely is one I’m interested in and so I picked it up. What I liked about it is that Todd brings forth a message of hope. He details the great strides that have been made over the past 30 years in drastically lowering the number of people worldwide living in extreme poverty. The one statistic that caught my attention is the one above – that the number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half in just 20 years. I think that’s huge progress, and runs contrary to what we usually think of when we think of global poverty – that the situation is dire and just keeps getting worse. In fact, the opposite is true – things are continuing to improve.

It’s also a call to arms to the Christian community to really step up and make a difference. Todd brings real action items to the table that you and I can get involved in to take a stance against global poverty and create change.

I don’t know. I’m glad I read this one but I would only recommend it if the subject really interests you. Or if you’re looking for a cause to get involved in, this book might inspire you to chose poverty as that cause. Or if you are a Christian and like reading any and all Christian-based books you can get your hands on. Otherwise, the book might not be for you.

Mini-Reviews (TSS edition)

Well another week has come and gone and not much happened for me blogging-wise.  There are a few reasons for this; primarily, my job is sucking the life out of me lately.  I have been working long hours and the days have been stressful.  I work in sales, and as anyone else who is in sales will tell you, when your team is behind on your goals it is just a nightmare.  At least the company I work for is pretty great about giving us overtime and things like that, but still – we feel the pressure, big time.  So I’ve been coming home from work exhausted every day, not feeling like doing much except read or watch TV.  The other thing going on in my life is that I’m trying to get in better shape, so I’ve been committed to hitting the gym 3-4 times a week.  I can’t say I’ve been too successful at this but I’m certainly trying.  So that takes up some of my extra time too.

Anyway, I figured a cure for getting so behind on reviewing is throwing a bunch of mini-reviews out there.  Besides knocking them off my list, I will feel better knowing that I got to tell you about all these great books I’ve been reading!  Because for the most part, they really have been great. 🙂

Bermudez First, I read The Bermudez Triangle for the GLBT challenge and also just because I’d been meaning to try Maureen Johnson for awhile now.  This young adult novel is about three best friends – Nina, Avery, and Mel – and when Nina goes away to college prep camp one summer, Mel and Avery fall in love.  That’s the premise, but it’s about so much more than that.  It’s about friendship, and crushes, and first love, and figuring out who you are, and navigating the treacherousness that is high school while being different, and so much more.  This novel was extremely refreshing.  The relationship between Avery and Mel was full of issues, just like any other relationship, and while some of the issues had to do with their being gay in a straight world, many of them did not.  Much of what happened was typical stuff that happens when teens find their first love.  The friendships between Mel, Avery, and Nina were about as authentic as possible, and it’s clear that Maureen Johnson really gets teens.  She so accurately portrayed real teens without being too angsty and/or annoying, and although this was my first Johnson it will definitely not be my last.  I really loved this one – YA fans, this is a must-read.

Next we have There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene.  This is a nonfiction read about the AIDS epidemic in Africa, specifically about one woman,Haregewoin Teferra, who in Ethiopia has taken in dozens of AIDS orphans and created a sort of orphanage for these children.  The book is part memoir, as Greene herself had adopted two AIDS orphans before meeting Teferra, part political and social history of AIDS in Africa, and part journalistic investigation of Haregewoin’s life and what she’s done for kids in Ethiopia.  For me, this format worked extremely well.  I learned a lot about the AIDS pandemic and for that reason alone, I highly recommend the book.  But also, Haregewoin’s story is remarkable – she is an amazing person with this incredible gift for selflessness, for taking in those who have no other opportunity or chance at life, and for turning their lives around, and it is inspiring to read her story.  I really can’t recommend this one more enthusiastically – it is a must-read for lovers of nonfiction, for lovers of learning, and for those of you who deeply care about some of the more important world issues.  Although I must warn you, it will make you want to adopt an AIDS orphan – I definitely had visions of adoption dancing in my head after finishing the book.

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell is a compilation of many of the pieces he wrote for the New Yorker and it is very typical Gladwell.  He writes about the obscure, mundane stuff that people normally don’t think twice about, yet he makes it interesting.  I listened to this one and as I’ve said before, Gladwell could read me the phone book and I’d be happy.  There’s just something about his narration that I adore.  Having said that, I found this to be the weakest of his four books simply because there wasn’t a core theme tying everything together.  I more enjoyed his other three books, where he was trying to make a larger point which ties everything together.  This one was just more random, and although I enjoyed many of the pieces, others bored me.  So, okay book, but as usual for Gladwell and me, great listening experience. 🙂

Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen was one I got on impulse, downloaded to my iPod, and began listening immediately.  This novel is about Van and Linny, Vietnamese-American sisters whose parents emigrated from Vietnam just before Van’s birth.  This is a character-driven novel at its best.  The book is not full of action, of plot twists, nothing like that.  Rather, it is about the relationships between the sisters, their parents, their significant others, and their heritage.  While both Linny and Van believe themselves to be regular American girls, free of their parents’ ties to Vietnam, over the course of the novel they realize their heritage is more important to them than they may have believed. Short Girls is an extremely accomplished novel, and I enjoyed every minute I spent with Van and Linny.  I absolutely recommend picking it up.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick was a recommendation from Eva, and what a fantastic recommendation she gave.  I’d never read a book about North Korea, and probably because the country is so closed, I knew little about it before reading this.  Of course I knew the basics, but Nothing to Envy really gets in there and exposes the hidden realities of what life is really like in this isolated place.  Demick actually spent time in North Korea, but the meat of the book is taken from conversations and interviews she had with several people who defected and now life in South Korea.  I don’t know what else to say about this one except that it is fascinating and eye-opening, tragic and heartbreaking, yet it is a must-read.  I feel like a more educated, knowledgeable person having read it.

Last, I picked up Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart because of the huge success it had around the blogs last year.  This novel is told from the point of view of high school student Katie D’Amore, who lives alone with her dad in their big house ever since her mother passed away last year.  The book is about Katie’s attempts to put her life back to normal since her mom’s passing, but also about a mystery she is trying to solve at her summer job working at a local estate.  The book is multi-layered and written beautifully.  Katie comes across as a completely authentic teen dealing with the loss of her mother, and yet there is so much more to Katie than grief.  She is a complex personality and much growth happens to her throughout the course of the novel.  I really enjoyed this one; it was a quick read but the writing was lush and beautiful and the characters were fully realized.  I now understand why people love Beth Kephart so much!

Well there you have it.  I’m caught up on much of my review backlog.  I still have three more to review, but those will all get their own posts, and I’m really hoping to finish another book today.  We might hit the beach later which is sure to give me some reading time in the hour’s drive there and back.

What are you up to today?  What are you reading this weekend?

Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wu-Dunn

Title:  Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Authors:  Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wu-Dunn
Release date:  September 8, 2009
Publisher:  Knopf
Pages:  320
Genre:  Nonfiction, Worldwide issues, Social justice
Source:  Library

Months ago, Eva and I discovered that we were both reading this book around the same time.  Actually, I discovered she was reading it and I decided I needed to read it too, based on her recommendation.  So we decided to do a co-review!  Unfortunately, life got in the way (for both of us) so we’re only posting now.  I’m going to skip summarizing the book myself in favor of the publisher’s summary, then I’ll move on to our thoughts.  Here’s the publisher’s summary:

From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.

Deeply felt, pragmatic, and inspirational, Half the Sky is essential reading for every global citizen.

Eva:  Did you like the book more or less than you expected to?

Heather:  Hmm… I guess I would have to say that I liked it less than I expected to.  Unfortunately, I had hugely unattainable expectations that the book would be amazing.  I’m not sure why, but I did.  I definitely enjoyed Half the Sky, but I was just expecting a little more.  Perhaps the main issue was that I didn’t really learn anything from the book – I have studied women’s issues in the past, I’ve read a lot of feminist and womanist books, and I already had at least basic knowledge of all of the issues discussed in the book.  So while I enjoyed the perspective that this one had to offer, I didn’t really get anything earth-shattering out of it.  What about you, Eva – did you like it more or less than you expected to?  And was there anything that stuck out to you as new information that you hadn’t already read/studied/heard about before?

Eva: I enjoyed it more than I expected, because I tend to have low expectations from international relations-y books written by newspaper writers.  Nothing against journalists and columnists, but they rarely delve into the issues to the level of detail I’d get from a more academic author.  So I expected a book targeting people without a background in women’s issues.  I enjoyed it more, because they tried to keep the focus upbeat, and I liked their profiles of strong women.  🙂  I especially liked it, because for anyone who has no background about the issues, I can recommend it.  I think for other readers, it might be earth-shattering; surely if everyone knew how many women died in childbirth, in such horrible ways, there’d be a campaign against it.

My favourite part of the book was the profiles they did of strong women around the world.  Who was your favourite profiled woman?

Heather:  Well, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it so much!  I agree about the fact that it’s easily recommendable to people who don’t have a lot of background on these issues – which, really, should be the case because how else can women’s issues get discussed if they can’t be introduced to people with little prior knowledge of them?

I loved the profiles of strong women around the world, too.  My favorite profiled woman was Goretti Nyabenda, the woman in Brundi who formed her own CARE association, which in simplest terms is basically an investment club for poor women.  I thought this story was so amazing because of the huge contract between the way Goretti’s husband treated her before she gained some independence and then after she started making her own money and improving their family’s life.  It showed me that if this horrible-sounding man can change his opinions about women, anyone can.  It gave me a lot of hope.  Which of the profiled women gave you the most hope?

Now pop over to Eva’s blog, A Striped Armchair, to see the rest of our review!

The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilites for Our Time
Jeffrey D. Sachs
December 2005
Penguin
416 pages
Nonfiction, Economics

Reading The End of Poverty really illuminated for me the fact that economics is just not my thing.  I may care about these issues, I may be passionate about the idea of ending poverty forever, and I may THINK that this book will help me to reformulate my ideas and beliefs about how this can happen.  While all these things are true, I still had a really, really hard time with this book.

I hate that.  I feel as though I’m not smart enough to grasp the concepts Sachs set forth here.  I know that’s not true, but this econ thing is just not for me.

Why don’t I attempt to explain the premise of the book?  Basically, after Jeffrey Sachs spent twenty-some-odd years advising different countries on how to deal with their economic issues, he decided that it’s actually possible, and in fact would be remarkably simple, to eradicate poverty on this planet if we do the right things.  Sachs first spent several chapters detailing the work he’s done in other countries, what’s been accomplished in some of the poorest places in the world and what has yet to be done, and then puts together a systematic and common-sense analysis of what we can do, what we NEED to do, to eradicate extreme poverty from the face of the earth for good.

I most enjoyed the chapters detailing Sachs’ work with different governments and economics experts around the world.  I found it fascinating to read about the progress that has been made in some places, in such short time periods, with little aid from other countries.  Obviously a lot more needs to be done, in those countries and others, or he wouldn’t have had to write the book, but the progress that’s been made in some places is remarkable to read about.

But when Sachs starts talking facts, figures, and graphs, my eyes start to glaze over and I have a hard time getting the information into my brain (and making it stay there).  I’m sure most of what he put forth makes perfect sense, but I had an extremely rough time analyzing his arguments.  I am just not good with all the numbers, plain and simple.

I feel like I’m smarter for having read and attempted to understand this book.  And there were parts I definitely enjoyed, definitely learned something from.  But generally, economics is just not my thing, and I suppose I need to be okay with that.

The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine

Title:  The Blue Notebook
Author:  James A. Levine
Published:  July 7, 2009
Page Count:  224
Genre:  Fiction
My Rating:  4 out of 5

Dear Reader:

Every now and then, we come across a novel that moves us like no other, that seems like a miracle of the imagination, and that haunts us long after the book is closed. James Levine’s The Blue Notebook is that kind of book. It is the story of Batuk, an Indian girl who is taken to Mumbai from the countryside and sold into prostitution by her father; the blue notebook is her diary, in which she recalls her early childhood, records her life on the Common Street, and makes up beautiful and fantastic tales about a silver-eyed leopard and a poor boy who fells a giant with a single gold coin.

How did Levine, a British-born doctor at the Mayo Clinic, manage to conjure the voice of a fifteen-year-old female Indian prostitute? It all began, he told me, when, as part of his medical research, he was interviewing homeless children on a street in Mumbai known as the Street of Cages, where child prostitutes work. A young woman writing in a notebook outside her cage caught Levine’s attention. The powerful image of a young prostitute engaged in the act of writing haunted him, and he himself began to write.

The Blue Notebook
brings us into the life of a young woman for whom stories are not just entertainment but a means of survival. Even as the novel humanizes and addresses the devastating global issue of child prostitution, it also delivers an inspiring message about the uplifting power of words and reading–a message that is so important to hold on to, especially in difficult times. Dr. Levine is donating all his U.S. proceeds from this book to help exploited children. Batuk’s story can make a difference.

Sincerely,

Celina Spiegel
Publisher

The Blue Notebook is unlike any other book I’ve read recently.  It tells what feels like a true story of a child/teenage prostitute in India, in first person, from the perspective of Batuk (the prostitute), as she writes about her life in her little blue notebook.  However, the book itself is a work of fiction, although it is apparently based on real people Levine met and interviewed in Mumbai.  This novel is raw, sad, and unbelievably heartbreaking.

It amazes me how well Levine was able to write Batuk’s voice and keep it so authentic-sounding.  There is just no way he can possibly imagine or understand what a child prostitute’s life is really like, what those young girls think and feel on a day to day basis, yet somehow he was able to convey exactly that.  Batuk felt so real to me, the book could just have easily been a memoir as a novel, that I was just left feeling totally enraptured in her world and caring deeply about what would happen to her.  Of course, when I thought about it I remembered that she isn’t actually real – but then again, there are millions of young girls and boys who live her life who ARE real.  And that fact is very scary and sobering.

The Blue Notebook was not an easy read, but it’s a book that I think needs to be read, because it’s very important to raise our own consciousness and awareness of these types of atrocities going on in our world.  Children are sold by their parents into prostitution, are being raped by up to twenty men a day, every day, in our world.  And we need to be aware of that, and if possible, work to fix it.  Books like this help us to do that.

As for the story itself, I thought it was an incredibly good one.  I was totally immersed in Batuk’s world from the first page and couldn’t put the book down until I finished it.  I do have to say that I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending – it was really just too depressing for my tastes.  I wanted some kind of resolution, some kind of hopeful ending, yet all I got was ambiguity and nothing concrete.  Then again, such is the life of a girl like Batuk, so I guess it’s a pretty realistic way to end what was a sadly realistic book.  I would have liked more, but I understand the effect Levine was going for and I definitely feel that he accomplished it.

More reviews –

The Good Women of China by Xinran

Title:  The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices

Author:  Xinran

Published:  October 8, 2002

Page Count:  256

Genre:  Nonfiction

My Rating:  4/5

For eight groundbreaking years, Xinran hosted a radio program in China during which she invited women to call in and talk about themselves. Broadcast every evening, Words on the Night Breeze became famous throughout the country for its unflinching portrayal of what it meant to be a woman in modern China. Centuries of obedience to their fathers, husbands and sons, followed by years of fear under Communism, had made women terrified of talking openly about their feelings. Xinran won their trust and, through her compassion and ability to listen, became the first woman to hear their true stories.

This unforgettable book is the story of how Xinran negotiated the minefield of restrictions imposed on Chinese journalists to reach out to women across the country. Through the vivid intimacy of her writing, these women confide in the reader, sharing their deepest secrets. Whether they are the privileged wives of party leaders or peasants in a forgotten corner of the countryside, they tell of almost inconceivable suffering: forced marriages, sexual abuse, separation of parents from their children, extreme poverty. But they also talk about love — about how, despite cruelty, despite politics, the urge to nurture and cherish remains. Their stories changed Xinran’s understanding of China forever. Her book will reveal the lives of Chinese women to the West as never before.

The Good Women of China is truly a remarkable book.  What Xinran has done is given a voice to so many women who were unable to use their own voices to tell their stories.  The women Xinran heard from had so many differing experiences, but they all shared the common theme of being oppressed, of having no say in their own lives, and of suffering throughout so much of their lives.  This was an incredibly difficult book for me to read, knowing that what I was reading had actually happened to somebody.  Yet, although it was a difficult read, this book is an important one.  These women experienced more suffering and heartache in their lives than most of us will ever experience (and many of them experienced it in their childhoods or teen years!), and their stories deserve to be heard.

So, I’m glad I read The Good Women of China.  There’s not much else I want to say about this book, honestly, just because I truly appreciated reading it but would rather refrain from any more summaries.  I’d really recommend reading this one – Xinran has done something very important with this book, and it deserves to be noticed.

Review: The Natashas

Title:  The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade

Author:  Victor Malarek

Publisehd:  September 12, 2005

Page Count:  320

ISBN:  978-1559707794

My Rating:  4/5

On the black market, they’re the third most profitable commodity, after illegal weapons and drugs-the only difference being that these goods are human, though to their handlers they are wholly expendable. They are women and girls, some as young as 12, from all over the Eastern bloc, where sinister networks of organized crime have become entrenched in the aftermath of the collapse of Communist regimes. In Israel, they’re called Natashas, whether they’re actually from Russia, Bosnia, the Czech Republic, or Ukraine, no matter what their real names may be. They’re lured into vans and onto airplanes with promises of jobs as waitresses, models, nannies, dishwashers, maids, and dancers. But when they arrive at their destinations, they are stripped of their identification, and their nightmare begins. They are sold into prostitution and kept enslaved; those who resist are beaten, raped, and sometimes killed as examples. They often have nowhere to turn; in many cases, the men who should be rescuing them-from immigration officials to police officers and international peacekeepers-are among their aggressors.

The Natashas is a very important book that is a must-read for anyone interested in worldwide social issues.  The book is researched very well, with a tight outline and great writing that makes the book (although it is nonfiction) very engaging and hard to put down.  I personally had some knowledge about the global sex trade before reading The Natashas but I certainly learned a lot of new information as well.

This book is not easy to read – especially for those of us with teenage daughters, sisters, friends, etc. – because the amount of abuse these girls suffer is unbelievable.  Malarek spends plenty of time reporting from the brothels, motels, and strip clubs where these girls live and “work”, and in his interviews the girls do not shy away from being completely candid about their daily lives.  This is good – the reader needs to get a complete picture of what the women go through every day – but it is by no means easy to read.  

A few things shocked me while reading this book.  The first is the lack of understanding most countries’ law enforcement have about the situation these women are in (including the United States).  In most cases, the girls are terrified to run – even when offered safety and transportation by Malarek himself – because the men holding them captive threaten every possible thing if they leave, most notably the killing of their entire families back home.  But for the few girls who do escape, they almost never end up as “free” as they would think… local law enforcement almost always, upon finding them or even helping them escape their captors, prosecutes them for prostitution.  These women are not prostitutes, they are sex slaves.  They have been kidnapped, taken to a country thousands of miles from their homes, and forced to “have sex” (quotations because really it is rape) with ten or twenty men a day.  I couldn’t believe when I read that in most cases, women who do escape just end up going straight to jail.  Unbelievable.

The other thing that truly shocked me is how prevalent this industry is here in the United States.  One of the examples that Malarek used is that of a small brothel that was operating in an apartment building in Mount Prospect, Illinois about ten years ago.  The brothel had five or six women from Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova that were sent on a plane, flew into O’Hare airport, and taken to this Chicago suburb to spend the next few months working at a local strip club (with a room in the back for other acts, of course).  What is shocking to me about this example is that Mount Prospect is literally ten minutes from the town I grew up in, and only about an hour from where I live now.  The book makes it very clear that this is happening all over the world, but this really hit it home for me.  These women were being held captive in my own backyard, so to speak.  Incredible.

There is a large portion of the book on the different laws that Congress has passed to deal with this issue – I’ll be honest, this section was definitely the most dry and the hardest for me to get through.  There was a lot of detail and most of it wasn’t all that interesting to me.  What is interesting is that even with all these efforts that the United States has supposedly put in to stop sex trafficking, it is still around and very prevalent.  The Natashas is an important book because sex trafficking isn’t going away unless we become educated about what it is and how it is allowed to go on.  I’m glad that I had the chance to learn more about this issue and I highly recommend reading the book.

More reviews –

Any others?  Let me know and I’ll add them!

Review: Slave

Title:  Slave: My True Story

Author:  Mende Nazar and Damien Lewis

Published:  April 26, 2005

# of Pages:  368

ISBN:  978-1586483180

My Rating:  5/5

At age twelve, Mende Nazar lost her childhood.  It began one horrific night in 1993, when Arab raiders swept through her Nuba village, setting fire to the village huts and murdering the adults.  The raiders rounded up thirty-one young children, including Mende, who was eventually sold to a wealthy Arab family in Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum.  So began Mende’s seven dark years of enslavement.  Normally, Mende’s story never would have come to light, but when she was sent to work for another master – a diplomat working in London – she made a dramatic break for freedom.

Published to critical acclaim for the honesty and clarity of its prose, Slave is a story almost beyond belief.  It depicts the strength and dignity of the Nuba tribe.  It recounts the savage cruelty of the secret, modern-day trade in slaves.  Most of all, it is “a profound meditation on the human ability to survive under virtually any circumstances.” (Publisher’s Weekly)

Wow.  This book is amazing.  I mean, really, there’s just no way I can do it justice in a review.  What Nazar struggled through while she was enslaved is unbelievable – it’s difficult to grasp the fact that this occured in the mid to late 1990’s, in “civilized” society – the capital city of Sudan as well as London, England.  The book shocked me.  Nazar’s ability to tell her story, to do so with such openness as she did, is amazing to me.  

I truly don’t have much else to say other than – Slave is absolutely a must-read.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  What a powerful, inspiring story.  I’m so glad I picked this book up and I truly believe you should too.

Another review:  Natasha at Maw Books Blog