The Road of Lost Innocence, by Somaly Mam

the-road-of-lost-innocenceSomaly Mam lost her parents at a young age in Cambodia.  Having no idea of what her name was or her age, Mam grew up in war torn Cambodia as an ethnic minority. The Khmer Rouge discriminated against the Pnong tribe and other ethnic minorities, and being half Pnong, Mam  had darker skin than the rest of the villagers and was taunted and reviled by people because of it.  Mam’s grandmother wandered away from the village, never to return, and Mam observed that it was not uncommon for people to just up and leave- she figures that her grandmother assumed that she would be better off in the village.  I wasn’t anymore than a few paragraphs into this book and I was absolutely stunned.  My jaw dropped and I didn’t close my mouth again until I got to the the end of The Road of Lost Innocence.

Mam is left totally at the mercy of her wits as she eats where she can among families in the village and supplements her slim pickings with the nuts and berries that she finds in the surrounding woods.  When a man arrives claiming to be acquainted with her family young Somaly quickly surmises that she would be better off having someone to look after her than to continue living the haphazard existence that she has been living.  The little girl thinks that she has finally found her family, and she calls the man “Grandfather”, but her dream quickly turns into a hellish nightmare as he treats her as an indentured servant and forces her to do his cooking and cleaning, and backbreaking  work for other families in the village- hauling water and working in the rice fields to earn money to support him.   Her “Grandfather” first sells her virginity when she is sent to a store owner under the pretense of running an errand only to be brutally raped, and later he sells her into sexual slavery in order to pay off his debts.

After years of horrendous rapes, beating and cruelty, Mam is able to escape from her horrific life when Cambodia opens up to tourism and aid workers from Europe and the United States. She meets wealthier patrons who are able to provide her with some stepping stones out of sexual slavery despite the dubious beginnings to their relationships (after all she does meet them as a prostitute).  Mam goes on to rise above her circumstances, but she can never forget where she came from, and using the little money available to her she founds AFESIP (Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances) and dedicates her life  to helping as many girls as she can escape their harrowing situations.  Her own circumstances have left her struggling to trust and connect with people, especially men, and it affects her capacity for trust in her relationships but she does all that she is able to for her girls.  She sees herself in each of the girls she encounters and while she can’t forget her pain or what she endured, she wants the girls to not feel ashamed of themselves and know that they can make better lives for themselves.

I picked this book up at the library about four months ago and kept extending the return date.  I knew that I wanted to read this book, but I also figured that it would be an intense read, and one for which I would need to prepare.  Finally, I couldn’t renew it anymore and it was either time to read it or take it back, so I took the plunge and started reading.

Somaly Mam tells her story directly, simply and without displaying any pity for herself.  She is remarkably restrained and controlled in her storytelling.  She sets out to explain what she thought were the worst moments of her life and the result is incredibly shocking and moving.  Even though the circumstance Mam endured were brutal she is of the opinion that the girls being sold into slavery today have it even worse.  They are found chained and tortured in despicably grim living situations, lacking cleanliness and protection from disease.  The trafficking of very young girls- as young as 5- has exploded into big business, and tourist hotels have been so that men who travel to Cambodia on vacation can spend time with young girls.

Somaly Mam’s work is much needed, and never ending.  The Road of Lost Innocence strikes a fragile balance between horror and inspiration.  This haunting memoir is a must read.


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Will Marry For Food, Sex and Laundry, by Simon Oaks

will-marry-for-foodI have to admit that I am curious about people’s lives and why they ultimately make the decisions that they make, so when I heard about Will Marry for Food, Sex, and Laundry, my interest was definitely piqued.  Why do men decide to marry, and can a woman really do certain things to increase her odds of a proposal?  The reformed bachelor sharing his perspective, Simon Oaks, has divided his book into four sections: How to Find Him, How to Attract Him, How To Keep Him and  finally, How to Stay With Him. In each section, he offers what he deems to be the most important pieces of the equation.  Interspersed throughout the book are sections called “Straight from the Horses Mouth”, detailing pertinent experiences from Oaks’ own life, and at the end of each chapter he thoughtfully includes a box called “Wrap It Up”, where he gets to the heart of the matter and briefly summarizes key takeaways from each chapter in short and surprisingly astute sentences (more on that later).

I can’t say that I found much new information in any of the sections, instead there were the same tired cliches about the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach, do the chores that you are comfortable with (and those will most likely be in the kitchen), and be inventive in the bedroom. He even includes a sample menu of dishes that you can make for “your man” according to whether he is a big carnivore, vegetarian, or just your average garbage disposal eating anything and everything in sight. That was pretty much the long and the short of it.  Picking up the latest issue of Cosmo and reading this book are essentially the same thing.

I waffled between being mildly amused and furious with the book’s blatant sexism.  Oaks mentions at the beginning of the book that he will be largely relying on stereotypes because “stereotypes aren’t created without foundation.” It’s hard to come away from this book with much more than a woman’s need to be a slave to the guy she is with. All you have to do is anticipate his every need without becoming either boring or too much like his mother in order to achieve the big pay off—marriage. Easy Peasy. Part Two of the book is prefaced with, “Girl finds boy. Girl Likes boy. Girl needs to feed, satisfy and clean boy.” Eww. Are women looking for husbands or fully grown adult babies?

The most valuable section for me was the last, where the author seems to show some sense and say that relationships are a two-way street that requiring both compromise and balance.  The short wrap-ups at the end of each chapter also show sense and seem to be at odds with the rest of the book. I often wondered who he was aiming for as an audience. A few parts were hilarious, whether because they were so outrageous or in some instances very familiar, and others were just plain offensive and off-putting. The common sense he started speaking at the end didn’t really save the reading experience for me.  I got whiplash trying to keep up with all the contradictory tones and statements.

Buy this book on Amazon.

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