Just when you thought you knew everything, I’ve come up with my life in a harem. No, it’s another book. The title, Some Girls, is not as interesting as the subtitle, My Life in a Harem. If all I had seen was the title, I wouldn’t have picked it up and you wouldn’t be reading this either. Some Girls: My Life in a Harem is Jillian Lauren’s autobiographical story about her foray into the sex business and ultimately a real life harem in Brunei. I had never read a real life account of life in a harem and I haven’t got one friend who has ever lived in one so when I saw it mentioned in New York Magazine, I snapped this right off the shelf, or out of the library’s online catalog.
While it was promising that the library had a copy, I expected either a sensationalistic account of the wonders of a harem, a political call to action to save the world from the sex trade, or a defense of women’s rights to live in harems if they wanted to. At minimum, I expected to learn something about life in a harem. What is a harem? I actually didn’t know.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a literate and insightful account of the author’s life from her late teens when as a New York University drop-out and aspiring actress she drifted into the wonders of pole dancing and the life of an American call girl, and then to a harem in Southeast Asia on the island of Borneo — where the royal family has an unbelievable amount of money to spend. The number of sex acts described in the whole book is less than in single episode of “Desperate Housewives.” And that few are essential to understanding the people as well as the relationships between the harem girls and the royal family and their employees.
The harem is just what the pictures show it to be, parties every night with the Prince and his chosen few with a lot of beautiful women sitting around. Dancing, music, food. Attentive but contained adoration. Hours of rather sedate partying punctuated with one or two carefully arranged sexual encounters for the prince. And outside the parties, as well as during them, hours of boredom. And incredibly expensive gifts. No torture or extreme humiliation or suspicious disappearances. Living in a mansion, under constant surveillance, even in the bathroom. “A camera behind every mirror and a king around every corner.”
The picture of a different culture is well drawn. Several different cultures, actually, as she portrays her life growing up in New Jersey, her life in the art worlds of New York and Los Angeles. The lives of the people around her. Her life as an adopted child, finding her birth mother. The book reads like an epic but ends when she is still in her early twenties. In the end a coming of age story.
She chronicles her shopping trips in Singapore where two girls have to take separate limousines because all their purchases won’t fit in one car. It requires 15 suitcases to take them back on the airplane. Chanel, Versace, Dior, Armani, Gucci — as many dresses as her driver could grab — he was in a hurry. Efficient management is prized and well rewarded in all aspects of harem life.
The book is actually literary — I hadn’t believed the reviews so I was surprised. Definitely recommended. I don’t think I need to know more about harems but would certainly read another book by Jillian Lauren.
Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren. NY: Plume, 2010. At Amazon.