The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine

Somaly Mam, Author, Ruth Marshall, With . Spiegel & Grau $22.95 (193p) ISBN 978-0-385-52621-0

The horror and violence perpetrated on young girls to feed the sex trade industry in southeast Asia is personalized in this graphic story. Of “mixed race,” Khmer and Phnong, Mam is living on her own in the forest in northern Cambodia around 1980 when a 55-year-old stranger claims he will take her to her missing family. “Grandfather” beats and abuses the nine-year-old Mam and sells her virginity to a Chinese merchant to cover a gambling debt. She is subsequently sold into a brothel in Phnom Penh, and the daily suffering and humiliation she endures is almost impossible to imagine or absorb (“I was dead. I had no affection for anyone”). She recounts recalcitrant girls being tortured and killed, and police collusion and government involvement in the sex trade; she manages to break the cycle only when she discovers the advantages of ferengi (foreign) clients and eventually marries a Frenchman. She comes back to Cambodia from France, now unafraid, and with her husband, Pierre; sets up a charity, AFESIP, “action for women in distressing circumstances”; and fearlessly devotes herself to helping prostitutes and exploited children. The statistics are shocking: one in every 40 Cambodian girls (some as young as five) will be sold into sex slavery. Mam brings to the fore the AIDS crisis, the belief that sex with a virgin will cure the disease and the Khmer tradition of women's obedience and servitude. This moving, disturbing tale is not one of redemption but a cry for justice and support for women's plight everywhere. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/11/2008
Release date: 09/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
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