Saturday, March 23, 2013

Some Girls by Jillian Lauren

Title: Some Girls: My Life in a Harem
Author: Jillian Lauren
Publisher: Plume
Release Date: April 27, 2010
Pages: 352 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

Some Girls: My Life in a HaremA jaw-dropping story of how a girl from the suburbs ends up in a prince's harem, and emerges from the secret Xanadu both richer and wiser

At eighteen, Jillian Lauren was an NYU theater school dropout with a tip about an upcoming audition. The "casting director" told her that a rich businessman in Singapore would pay pretty American girls $20,000 if they stayed for two weeks to spice up his parties. Soon, Jillian was on a plane to Borneo, where she would spend the next eighteen months in the harem of Prince Jefri Bolkiah, youngest brother of the Sultan of Brunei, leaving behind her gritty East Village apartment for a palace with rugs laced with gold and trading her band of artist friends for a coterie of backstabbing beauties.

More than just a sexy read set in an exotic land, Some Girls is also the story of how a rebellious teen found herself-and the courage to meet her birth mother and eventually adopt a baby boy.


We tend to think of harems more in the past tense and as part of old tales than as something that still exists, but here's a tale of one woman's experience in a harem in the early 90s. It's... hard to put words to this book, really.

It's a story worth telling, though her prose isn't always up to snuff. There were a few tuns of phrase that made me snort. Still, with as strong of a story as this book has, it's easy to overlook it and get caught up in the world Jill found herself in after one fateful audition. Brunei in the 90s was a very odd place, to say the least. There's a mix of culture clash and general strangeness (the harems and colored money and extravagance for the royals and stuff) in that statement.

But it's more than just the story of the screwed-up harem of the youngest brother of the Sultan of Brunei. It's about Jill herself too: how she ended up there, how her time there influenced her, and struggles in her life that had nothing and everything to do with her time in the harem. Her story drags for a while when concentrating on her life post-harem and the book could have been shorter than it was due to this, but this makes the book more than just a novelty, I suppose.

However, it becomes hard to stay engaged in the novel when she decides to concentrate on her life outside of it. The morbid fascination with the politics of being one of the prince's many women is enough to drive about half the novel, but her personal story of being a stripper and then a call girl and everything that ensues once she leaves Brunei lacks that kind of power. She strips, she does the call girl thing, she gets a couple of boyfriends and doesn't get along well with her family,... Blah blah blah.

It's also difficult to figure out if the catty descriptions of other women are supposed to put us in her messed-up mindframe of yesteryear or if she feels that way while looking back on it in the present. She just loves to talk about how other girls dress badly, sing badly, behave like junior high bullies, make stupid faces, etc. Whether it's memoir or fiction, I want to see people make an effort to show people as people, not caricatures. Jill also lost major points when she called another of the harem girls a "delusional rock slut". Not cool. Not cool at all. I kinda got the impression she doesn't/didn't like other women based on how most other women are described and portrayed.

Some Girls is a half-wonderful, half-chilling insight into a modern harem, but as a memoir and personal story, it doesn't always rise to the occasion.

What am I reading next?: Horrorscape by Nenia Campbell