October Books 4) Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, by Jillian Lauren

I took a week off earlier this month, and decided to read something a bit different if I read anything at all. I ended up with this account of a teenager who graduated from New York escorting to joining the girls maintained by the Sultan of Brunei's younger brother in his palace, providing company and occasional sex. As one might expect, there was a constant jockeying for position, with one woman (who we are told was a former Filipino soap star) ensconced as #1 girlfriend until she decided to leave; Jillian Lauren describes her own short-lived ascent to the position of #2 girlfriend, and one senses that her heart was not in the intense political and emotional combat with her co-workers which would have been necessary to maintain that position. She got a decent amount of cash and vast amounts of material goods in return for being available for sex with the prince at his whim, before she too decided that she had had enough and moved back to the USA.

Given that harems have been a part of how courts operate in many different cultures throughout history, it is interesting to read this very recent account. Of course, the girls in Brunei were able to leave much more easily than most historical harem women were; they were paid handsomely for staying (though they were also under strict orders not to leave the palace, which is the only coercive element reported), and one suspects that the royal family's external agents got a decent commission as well for finding them. The voices of sex workers are pretty silent in general, and it's refreshing to read a story that packs in so much without being titillating.

Lauren waited fifteen years to publish her account, which perhaps gave her the necessary perspective to make it a clear-eyed coming-of-age story. It's uncomfortable reading in places – particularly, I found, in the American sections at the beginning and end, rather than the Brunei episodes which are too different from my own experience to do more than boggle at. A farly brief and breezy read, which you finish with a strong sense that the author is glad to have put it all behind her.