Monday, October 24, 2011

Some Girls – My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren

As I sit here overthinking how to review Some Girls – My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren, I feel a curious sense of anxiety. Why? Because although not a dominate theme of the book, the issue of women being mean to women is in there; a topic that is already hovering in my consciousness because of the movie The Help, which is so much about women being mean to each other.

Let’s back up and get some context. First, Some Girls is not about life in a harem, it is about Jillian Lauren’s trek from rebellious New Jersey teen-dom to becoming a successful author and mother with an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University; all viewed through the universally blurry lens of hindsight. During said trek, she does a lot of drugs, drops out of NYU, dabbles in experimental theater, becomes a stripper and prostitute, is hired to join a stable of women at the disposal of the brother of the Sultan of Bruni in Borneo, and reunites with her birth mother.

Here’s a snapshot of Lauren’s harem life. Thirty to fifty handpicked women from all over the world are paid to come to Bruni for undisclosed purposes (duh). They are told that they will be paid approximately $20,000 for each 2-week period and, although they can choose to go home at any time, they cannot otherwise leave the lush royal compound that becomes their home. During the day they lie around and watch TV or workout. Then each and every night, they get very dressed up for “the party,” at which they sip Champagne, gossip and perform Karaoke. The “prince” comes into the party most nights, chats with a lucky few, and then chooses one girl to take back to his room for sex. If you are chosen to sit close to or sing for the prince, or to go on a rare and unbelievable shopping spree, you have status. Inevitably, they all want status, which is the dynamic by design, resulting in clicks, backstabbing and conniving.  During the 18-months that Jillian spends in the “harem” the competition for the supposedly “charming and handsome” prince is nauseatingly fierce. Click on read more below...

Of course, “women being mean to each other” is indelibly tied to low self-esteem, and Lauren’s low self-esteem becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy. She makes one bad decision after another, as if purposely trying to top her all time low. Lauren’s observation of her frailties, which plays throughout this and her other book (recently-reviewed Pretty), are alternately charming, enlightening and annoying. Hindsight is always cheap, but nevertheless, every now and again, she weaves a sentence that is like a punch to the heart. For example:

“Ballerinas have long, thin, necks like swans,” my father had often said.
He didn’t need to complete the thought. I was a duck.
I would have to learn to take solace in the fact that water ran off my back.

For some of us, that is our specialness. We are ducks that can shed damage like water and just keep waddling along.

Another thing about Some Girls that resonated so strongly for me was the prologue – the story of Scheherazade (pictured), legendary Persian queen. The story goes that the King of Persia, angry that his wife had betrayed him, ordered his Vizier to bring him a new virgin every night, who he would then behead the following sunrise. After the King had killed more then a thousand virgins, the Vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, insists, much against her father’s wishes, that she be sent into the King. When she goes into the King, she begins telling him a story, but doesn’t finish the story before the sun rises. So the King doesn’t kill her, but orders her to return the following night to finish the story. She goes to him every night, but never finishes the story and the King falls in love with her.

I think that Jillian Lauren is telling her story, and learning to love herself, and that is a lesson for us all.

Some Girls isn’t a perfect book, and Jillian Lauren isn’t a perfect writer, but she tells a story that makes me want to hear more.  Give her a try and see what you think.

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