June 2010

Emma Kat Richardson

nonfiction

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren

Jillian Lauren is the type of renegade, fly-by-night individual for whom the phrase “going rogue” would only describe a biographical understatement. (Taking notes -- for once -- Ms. Palin?) In the span of just a few short decades on the planet, Lauren has already managed to amass the kind of life skills and experiences that most people of ordinary temperament and disposition could only hope to spy upon through the pages of, well, a memoir much like hers.

This memoir, in particular, is something of an anomaly in and of itself, marching to a similar beat taken on by the young author as she describes the topsy-turvy world in which her juvenile incarnation exists. And for Lauren, this world consists of a head-first, spiraling journey down into the rabbit hole of Brunei, a Southeast Asian country where the 18-year-old tried-and-true Jersey girl finds herself paid in stunning jewels and designer duds to cater to the every whim of the Sultan’s spoiled brother, as an elite member of his revolving door harem. To be sure, she’s no white slave nor hapless victim of human trafficking -- rather, Lauren’s travels to Brunei arrive rather unexpectedly but under the veil of positivity, as the result of what she believes to be an opportunity for the adventure and excitement so sorely missing from her everyday life; a ladder-climbing option for a struggling actress falling back on the tricks of the sex industry just to keep herself afloat amid New York City’s sea of failed artisans.

Indeed, the picture painted here by Lauren of the Sultan’s opulent palace and lavish surroundings is as breathtaking and overwhelming as her descriptions of a rough-and-tumble pre-harem home life is gritty and unglamorous. Taken up on the heels of her brief stint as a high-class hooker in New York’s “pretty woman” district, Lauren quickly opts to leave behind her struggles with her parents, her theater internship and budding acting career, and most importantly, the inner turmoil attached to her adoption and subsequent identity crisis in favor of flowing luxury (and oftentimes, criminal decadence) at the palace in Brunei.

Unlike your typical dirty-girl-gone-clean memoir, set upon exploring the jaw-dropping ins and outs of the worldwide sex trade and the role played by its participants/victims, Lauren’s story is not one of perpetual gullibility and woman-done-wrong incidents, but rather an entertaining, if coarse, and hopeful tale about one young woman’s endless quest to find herself, at whatever the cost may be to her personal well-being or physical safety. Aside from the mean-girl antics that cascade throughout the detailed harem account (it seems encouraging female competitiveness and figurative cat-fights amongst his 40-plus female playthings is a favorite past-time of the prince’s), there’s really no presence of victimhood to be found here; rather, Lauren displays an excellent clarity of mind. For the memoir’s duration, she almost always knows exactly what she’s doing and what she’s getting herself into, but takes on the challenge of an unknown -- and perhaps threatening -- world willingly, all in the hope of scratching an innate restlessness and, maybe someday, answering the same questions asked by every confused adult-sub-adolescent on the planet. Namely, who am I, what am I doing here, and what comes next?

True enough, Lauren’s path to solving these riddles is more than just a bit unconventional, and definitely does not resound with a ringing recommendation for other confused youth stumbling blindly into an identity void. Wisely, she steers clear of both the self-sympathy mongering and clear resolution pandering that pollute so many otherwise engaging and descriptive memoirs. What we have instead here is a beautiful, sweeping epic of what comedian Margaret Cho refers to, on the book’s back jacket, as a “punk rock Scheherazade,” and indeed, nearly every moral crossroads and moment of self-questioning is referred to by the narrative’s common, tying-together thread: “What would Patti Smith do?”

Although we never really learn the outcome of some of the story’s more choice supporting players, the heroine who emerges from a volatile and fiery situation effectively steals the heart and sympathy (whether intended or not) of the audience. She’s a winning protagonist who faces indelible hardships in the way of interpersonal strife and a definite loss of naivety; but in the end, as with the world’s most famous Arabian storyteller, we’re unbelievably grateful to see our heroine emerge unscathed, head intact and with a tale of suffering, woe, and ultimately triumph spun upon her red-stained lips.

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren
Plume
ISBN: 0452296315
352 Pages