Some Girls: My Life in a Harem

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A 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 ...

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A 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Some Girls is a heart-stoppingly thrilling story told by a punk rock Scheherazade.... The book is almost musical, an enduring melody of what it is to be a woman." —-Margaret Cho
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452296312
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/27/2010
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 517,364
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jillian Lauren is a writer and performer who grew up in suburban New Jersey. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Weezer bass player, Scott Shriner, and their son, Tariku.

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Read an Excerpt

The Shah’s wife was unfaithful to him, so he cut off her head and summarily declared all women to be evil and thereby deserving of punishment. Every night the Shah’s grand vizier brought him a new virgin to marry and every morning the Shah had the woman executed. After too many of these bloody sunrises, the vizier’s eldest and favorite daughter asked to be brought to the Shah as that night’s offering. The grand vizier protested, but his daughter insisted, and this daughter was known throughout the kingdom for her powers of persuasion. At the end of the day, the Shah married the vizier’s daughter while the vizier wept in his chambers, unable to watch.

At first, the daughter’s wedding night was indistinguishable from the wedding nights of the other ill-fated virgins who had married the Shah before her, but as morning approached, the Shah’s newest wife began to tell him a story. The story had not yet reached its conclusion when the pink light of dawn crept around the edges of the curtains. The Shah agreed to let the woman live for just one more day, because he couldn’t bear to kill her before he learned the story’s end.

The next night the woman finished that story, but before the sun rose over the dome of the palace mosque, she began another, equally as compelling as the last. The following one thousand and one nights each concluded with an unfinished story. By the end of this time, the Shah had fallen in love with the woman, and he spared her life, his heart mended and his faith in women restored.

This is, of course, the story of Scheherazade. It’s the story of the storyteller. We lay our heads on the block and hope that you’ll spare us, that you’ll want another tale, that you’ll love us in the end. We’re looking for the story that will save our lives.

One thousand and one nights—nearly three years. That’s about the span of this story. Will you listen? It’s almost morning.

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Reading Group Guide

Spending her last thirty dollars to catch a yellow cab to the airport, restless and determined eighteen year–old Jillian Lauren was at the precipice of an incredible journey. One that would and take her halfway around the world, shatter her illusions, and altogether challenge her sense of self. Lauren would become part of the harem of Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei, emerging from the experience only a couple of years older, but infinitely wiser.

Sone Girls traces Lauren's life from growing up in suburban New Jersey, to living with artist friends in a gritty East Village apartment, to her arrival in an art filled, gilded palace in Borneo. After dropping out of NYU theater school, Lauren follows a tip about upcoming audition, where a "casting director" promises a rich businessman in Singapore will pay American girls $20,000 to stay for two weeks and spice up his parties. Soon, it is revealed that Lauren, and a host of other international beauties, will spend time entertaining the charming, yet taciturn, Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei, nicknamed Robin, and his entourage.

Jillian was one of the first Western women to infiltrate this modern–day iteration of an ancient institution. As she recounts the lavish parties, a parallel tale unfolds—rich in an entirely different way—of Jillian's quest for her identity. Knowing little of the etiquette and duties expected of her, Lauren quickly learns the unwritten rules of harem life. Evening parties are a competition, with the ladies all vying for the playboy Robin's attention—not just for sport—but for survival.

Jillian is intoxicated by the riches, the glamour, and above all by the Prince's charm. She learns to play the role of a modern day Sheherazade to keep his interest. But eventually, amid the late night discos, extravagant shopping sprees and diamond–faced Rolexes, catering to Jefri's capricious whims takes its toll. Lauren ultimately comes to question whether this prince's kingdom really is the happily ever after she imagined. She leaves set on a different course entirely—to find her birth mother and eventually adopt a baby boy.

With poignant storytelling, at times heartbreaking, yet hopeful, Some Girls is the story of a young woman's remarkable search for identity.


Author and performer Jillian Lauren grew up in suburban New Jersey and fled across the water to New York City. Her memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, was published by Plume on April 27 2010.

Her novel, Pretty, will be published by Plume in May 2011.

Jillian has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. Her writing has appeared in Vanity Fair,Flaunt Magazine, Pindeldyboz Magazine and Opium Magazine, among others.

She has read at spoken word events across the country and has recently worked with directors as diverse as Steve Balderson, Lynne Breedlove and Margaret Cho.

She is married to musician Scott Shriner. They live in Los Angeles with their son.

Q. Some Girls is the story of your experiences in the sex industry, including an 18 month period living in the harem of Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei. Why did you want to share your story?

I think it's important for women to be truthful about their lives, particularly women on the fringes of society, who often keep silent because we're led to believe that our stories are something to be ashamed of. We let our stories be told by others, usually men, and we wind up repeatedly being the bodies left behind by serial killers or the hookers with the hearts of gold. I wanted to tell my own story: how I became a sex worker and what it did to my life and my dreams. I wanted to portray the complexity of the experience and to present an emotional journey that I believe will be familiar to many women, even those to whom the events of the narrative may seem outrageous.

Q. The book is a brutally honest, unapologetic memoir. How were you able to get to the point in your life where you could talk candidly and without shame about your experiences in such extreme situations?

Eighteen years passed before I was able to tell this story. It took that long to be ready, from both a craft standpoint and an emotional standpoint, to do the story justice. For me, the trick to writing about such a wild and often dark time in my life was to have a stable foundation. I have a pretty boring life now, and I mean that in the best way. I write; I take care of my family; I go to yoga. I'm lucky that I was able to emerge from the period of time I describe in Some Girls with my health and my sanity. And I'm lucky that I was then able to assemble a life for myself in which I felt safe enough to tell my story.

Q. You grew up in a middle class family in suburban New Jersey—not exactly a background most people would associate with international concubines. How did you end up working in the sex industry?

A lot of different factors contributed to my decision to go into sex work, most prominently my burning desire to be on a stage and my difficult home life. By the time I turned eighteen and I got the job offer in Brunei, I was already dancing in strip clubs and working for an escort service. It was always an innate quality of mine to yearn for adventure, to seek out an extraordinary experience. So when a Prince invited me halfway around the world, of course I said yes. That was who I was at the time.

Q. What lessons about life and humanity did you learn from the time you spent in the Brunei harem? Anything that you think would particularly surprise people?

The real lessons for me were learned as I looked back and reflected. I was able to discover a different level of compassion for both myself and for the other people who shared my story. I looked at pictures of myself from that time and I said, What was so wrong with me? Why did I hate myself so much? I was beautiful. I was hopeful. I was brave. I was adorable. I can see it now clear as day, but I couldn't see it then. The story is about struggling to love yourself and learning to forgive yourself.

Q. In the book, you talk about having been adopted and share your curiosities about what your birth mother looked like and whether or not you got certain traits from her. How do you think being adopted affected the course of your life and the decisions you made?

It's hard to say how adoption affected the course of my life, because being adopted is such an integral part of who I am. Adoption is a wonderful thing, but it definitely has profound implications for all of the parties involved. I think all of our stories are, in one way or another, about piecing together the puzzle of our true selves. My search for my birth mother, as written about in Some Girls, is a piece of that puzzle.

Q. You had a strained relationship with your father growing up and write about how he would make negative remarks about your body, weight and intelligence and even become physically abusive with you, your brother and mother. Have you come to terms with your father's treatment of you?

I'm not sure I've come to terms with it. I suspect that coming to terms with my relationship with my father is probably going to be a lifelong journey. When you're dealing with something like abuse, people often expect it to be a black and white situation: abuser and victim, bad guy and good guy. But in my case it's more complicated than that. Because my father is a very loving and generous man in many ways and I care about him a great deal, but he's also a flawed and tragic character who inflicted a lot of damage. So the question for me is how do you portray that in a compassionate and honest way. Writing about my father was probably the most painful part of the process for me and required the most soul–searching.

Q. Have your parents read your book? How much do they know about what you experienced?

My parents were already aware of some of my adventures, but certainly a handful of the revelations in Some Girls were a surprise to them. My parents are hurt by the book and that saddens me a great deal. But it was a story I was compelled to write and I believe it has the potential to connect with many women. I did my best to write a deeply honest and compassionate account of that time in my life and my family was part of that story. I had hoped my family would be more supportive of the book, but I have faith that we'll work through this difficult time. We've gone through worse.

Q. There has been some hoopla in recent years over the validity of memoirs. What would you say to someone who might question the truth and accuracy of your story? How was the book corroborated?

Of course the matter of lying in memoirs is on everyone's minds right now. I definitely had to produce photographs and documents to satisfy my publisher. But on a more personal level, I wrote this book as an exercise in radical honesty. I've always kept journals and I was incredibly fortunate to have those documents to draw on. The deeper question for me was more about the emotional authenticity of the work. It's the central question in any memoir and it was something that I had to examine and reexamine with every draft I wrote.

Q. What do you hope readers take away from your book?

Writing this book was in part an attempt to be honest about my struggle to love myself and hopefully to invite other women to recognize a shared experience. Most of the women reading the book will not have had the experience of being an international teenage escort, but I believe the emotions involved are surprisingly universal.

Q. You are now the proud mother of a son, Tariku, whom you and your husband, Weezer bassist Scott Shriner, adopted. How did you come to the decision to adopt? How did your own experience affect your decision?

Scott and I had always considered adoption. The idea of adopting a baby was always close to my heart, probably due to the fact that I was adopted myself and felt a need to come full circle with it. But our adoption plans were put into motion more quickly than we'd expected when we experienced unexplained infertility. It was a challenging and difficult time for us, but I'd go through every moment of it again a hundred times over if I knew that Tariku was waiting for us at the other side. Much like my experience in Brunei, a time that felt hopeless and overwhelmingly painful at the time turned out to be a gift in the end.

Q. If you could give advice to your younger self, what would you tell her?

I'd probably tell her to learn to breathe, to learn to sit still, to learn to give herself the love she was looking for in others. But she'd never listen to me anyway.


  • In the prologue, Lauren recounts the story of Sheherazade from 1001 Arabian Nights. She writes that the story of Sheherazade is "…the story of the storyteller. We lay our heads on the block and hope that you'll spare us, that you'll want another tale, that you'll love us in the end. We're looking for the story that will save our lives." What is the place of storytelling in the narrative? Do you believe Lauren is successful in her quest for the story that will save her life? Have you ever felt the desire to find such a story?
  • Lauren refers to singer/poet Patti Smith throughout the book as her punk rock fairy godmother. She writes, "Ever since I was sixteen and I'd first heard Easter and decided that Patti Smith was the barometer of all things cool and right, when faced with tough decisions, I would ask myself, What would Patti Smith do? It was the yardstick by which I measured what was the authentic choice, the balls out choice." What is the place of role models (or the lack thereof) in Lauren's coming–of–age tale?
  • Lauren recalls her first time performing as a stripper at the Kit Kat Club, and discusses the common societal attitudes about why people become sex workers. Lauren writes, "What makes one financially strapped girl turn into a stripper and another into a Denny's waitress and another into a med student? You want to connect the dots. You want reassurance that it won't be your daughter up there on the pole. Shitty relationship with my father, low self-esteem, astrologically inevitable craving for adventure, dreams of stardom, history of depression and anxiety, tendency towards substance abuse—put it all in a cauldron and cook and the ideal sex worker emerges, dripping and gleaming and whole." Discuss the common stereotypes and misconceptions about sex workers. Does society oversimplify why people become sex workers? How has Lauren's story altered your own perceptions about sex work?
  • Lauren explains, "Nevertheless, two roads diverged. I picked the one that seemed a bit wilder. Because that was who I wanted to be." Discuss how our personal choices reflect our identities. Do we choose who we ultimately become?
  • What are some of the images that the word "harem" conjures up for you? How did the real–life harem compare with your expectations? If it was different from your expectations, did that lead you to question any other assumptions you might have about cultural practices that differ from your own?
  • What factors do you believe contributed to Lauren's decision to go to Brunei? What do you think you would have done in the same position?
  • When walking through the Prince's palace during the day, Lauren states, "I've always liked rooms when the party hasn't started yet. Even more magical are theaters during the day, before the doors open, before the show begins, when the house lights are on and you can see the rafters and the scuffs on the floor. I love the feeling that anything could happen. After the party, when anything already has happened, there's usually the inevitable fact to face that anything wasn't all you'd hoped it would be." What is the place of hope in the story? Do you find Lauren to be hopeful at the beginning of the story? How about at the end? Are there different kinds of hope?
  • Lauren suffers from an eating disorder that flares up during her time in the harem. She writes, "I took the phentermine pills and started quietly obsessing about losing weight again. I wasn't alone. Most of the girls in Brunei took pills. We drank laxative teas. Even though we could have ordered any food we wanted, we ordered plain chicken and steamed veggies and tried to fill up on lettuce sprinkled with lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. This is the Faustian bargain for many women who make their bodies their livelihood. Your body will be worshipped by others but hated by you. It will give others pleasure but it will give you only pain." Do you think this sort of behavior is limited to women who make their bodies their livelihood, or does it have a broader scope? Is self–denial and hatred of one's body a common experience for women and if so, why?
  • Describing the harem's power dynamic, Lauren writes, "All the girls were transformed in some way by the pressure, the paranoia, the insidious insecurity that creeps in when you size yourself up against a roomful of other girls every night. Who would you be? Would you shine or would you buckle? Would you stay and slug it out or would you run?"Describe how the harem's competitiveness begins to affect Lauren. What would you have done in Lauren's place?
  • How does the definition of power shift during the story?
  • What are some of the ways that the theme of motherhood is explored throughout the book?
  • As a very young girl, Lauren has an idealized image of her birth mother, who was a ballerina. Lauren explains, "in my fantasy, my birth mother was a life–size version of the tiny dancer twirling inside my satin–lined music box. My plastic ballerina had the smallest brushstroke of red hair and limbs the width of toothpicks. She never lost her balance; she never had to let her arms down. I imagined my birth mother posed in a perpetual arabesque, swathed in white tulle, with a tiara of sparkling snowflakes in her hair." How did Lauren's perceptions about her birth mother match up to reality? Do you feel there was a sense of disappointment? How did the meeting change Lauren's feelings towards her adoptive parents?
  • After meeting her birth mother for the first time, Lauren writes "I was only twenty, the age Carrie had been when she put me up for adoption. And when I chronicled my list of outrageous fuckups in the preceding couple of years, when I visited my dismal graveyard of buried aspirations, when I looked at all I had trampled, I was forced to forgive her." Do you believe Lauren's forgiveness of her birth mother was justified? Has there been a time when you forgave someone in a similar situation?
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Customer Reviews

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( 160 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 161 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 7, 2011

    It makes no sense

    Why is the nook version higher than the paperback version. This makes no sense at all! The cost of publishing ebooks is so much less than for publishing traditional hardback and paperback books. Ridiculous, Barnes and Noble, just ridiculous!

    4 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2010

    A Must Read-Great Themes, and Intriguing Story

    Some Girls-My Life in a Harem Some Girls-My Life in a Harem, written by Jillian Lauren is a provocative, thought-provoking story of how an average, adopted teenage girl from the suburbs of New Jersey ends up in the exotic country of Brunei, in the harem of the Sultan's manipulative brother. The story begins with Jillian recalling her memories of the day she left for Brunei, and her visit to her ill father in the hospital. Overridden with guilt for leaving her family, Jillian, an NYU theater dropout leaves for Brunei, on an "acting job," and becomes hopelessly intertwined in Prince Jefri's harem. Quickly, Jillian finds herself becoming one of the prince's favorite girlfriends, and begins to spiral into a deep obsession with her own perfection, and the disgusting amount of riches she was gaining in such an immoral way. This depression leads Jillian back to New York, and to a healthier state of mind, which brings her to find her birth mother and adopt her own child. Many different themes, that all reflect on the dark side of human nature are portrayed in this intriguing biography. One of the major themes displayed in this story is how much of a price you will pay for your own wealth, and how your conscience can be so easily ignored in the face of great wealth and security. Another theme that this provocative tale examines is how easily the human heart can become desperate for affection, even if it is false love. All of the themes shown in this raw biography lead us to examine our ethics and consciences if we were to be put in Jillian's situation. One of the best aspects of this biography is the way that Jillian Lauren intertwines her wisdom and faults of her tainted past in Brunei, and her much healthier and loving present. Lauren reflects on her mistakes and experiences not with a hint of regret, but with a sense of progression and learning. Another great aspect of this biography was Lauren's ability to make the reader believe what Lauren felt about the Prince and the harem. The only true flaw that Lauren has in Some Girls is her brief description of her departure of Brunei, and what she was feeling exactly in the events preceding it. I would most definitely recommend this book to anyone I know, as it is an interesting story, that forces you to examine your faults, and ethics, and consider what you would do in a compromising situation. I find this biography to be a great story that keeps you interested from start to finish, while giving you time to reflect upon your beliefs and values, and how to forgive yourself and progress from your mistakes from the past. Jillian Lauren currently does not have any other books published, but after reading Some Girls, I would be intrigued to read anything else about her complex life. As a whole, I would give Some Girls four out of five stars, as it is an intriguing, exotic story, that you can still relate to, no matter how unorthodox Lauren's story becomes.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2010

    Couldn't put it down!

    I'm a big historical fiction fan and rarely read biographies, but this book was quite fascinating. Jillina Lauren spins a story that draws in the reader from the beginning. It seems as if she is sitting beside you, casually recounting her life story. Who wouldn't love to know what goes on in a modern-day harem! We get a glimpse of what happens when male Muslims are fantastically wealthy, and how their lifestyles affect the young women they so thoughtlessly, casually discard.

    What a story!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2013

    Highly recommended

    Jillian Lauren is a great story teller and a gifted writer. I love how she bares her soul in this memoir. I highly recommend this story.

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  • Posted November 7, 2012

    The book was good because I love bio's, but if i bought the book

    The book was good because I love bio's, but if i bought the book purely for the name of it (my life in a harem) i would be disappointed. Literally half the book isnt even about her life in a harem, i think she should have written this book 15 years before she did when she still remembered what went on in Brunei.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2012

    I was disappointed in this book. It was suggested for a book club read and it was all I could do to finish it.

    The writing was not the best or the story was not written well, I'm not sure what the problem was but I was glad to be done with it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 24, 2011

    Not as Advertised

    I wish I'd read reviews first, usually try to...just finished this book and am disappointed. From the title AND description, I was looking for a story about the harem. Some of that is there, but there is a lot about this woman's upbringing, life, friends, family, etc. that I just didn't care about. So beware...I found myself skipping full pages just to get to an interesting part.

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  • Posted October 2, 2011

    So - So

    Not Enough About The Harem & Too Vague!! I Wish It Had MORE Insight! Alot Of Boring Details About The Author!

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  • Posted June 13, 2011

    Good writing; boring story

    Jillian Lauren is quite a good writer however, the story itself is lacking........

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  • Posted May 1, 2011

    Not as exciting as I thought

    I was disappointed, the front page says my life in a harem,but only short parts were really about the harem, it should have been an autobiography bc it discusses more about things that happened to the author before the harem and after, instead of during. I actually lost interest and it took me another week to read the last 30 or so pages. I do not recommend to buy this,especially on nook,wait until someone else you know buys it in paperback and borrow it, or look in the thrift stores bc it will be there soon!

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  • Posted April 23, 2011


    From the beginning, I was entranced by what Lauren wrote of her life and her time within the harem. Not at all what I had imagined. Just from people that I had spoke to who had worked for the Sultan or his brothers, I had learned a lot. I learned even more from Jillian Lauren. Interested, fast read! I wished at times she had enclosed more detail.

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  • Posted March 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Readable

    I recommend this book. First, for learning about a modern day harem. Secondly, for understanding modern young adult women and how they get to the places they do. There are adult scenes in this book and I woulnd't let my daughter read it, but the author wisely included sex scenes that were important to the plot. It wasn't a story of sex, but rather a story about a girl's life. An easy, interesting read and a statement on today's society.

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  • Posted February 8, 2011

    highly recommend

    Great easy read good vacation on a beach book ! Crazy story cant believe its true !!

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  • Posted January 17, 2011

    This took guts!

    I picked up this book having never heard of Jillian Lauren before and I couldn't put it down. I really think this took some guts for her to lay everything out like she did. She is a great storyteller!

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  • Posted December 16, 2010

    gripping tale of personal growth

    A fascinating view of how our choices can lead us in directions that we never imagined and which most people would find hard to believe even exist, and would find all but impossible to refuse

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  • Posted November 4, 2010

    Interesting reading!

    I really enjoyed this book. Something very different!

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  • Posted August 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Good Book

    Thanks for letting me borrow this book Patsy! It was really good!! :)

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2010

    Not Nearly as Intriguing as the cover or title

    To put it bluntly, I was bored. And I didn't care or relate to/for any of the characters in the book.

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  • Posted July 10, 2010

    Fascinating, I Loved It

    This book was incredibly interesting to me. Life in a Harem was obviously a complete mystery, so it is just incredible to get a look inside. The author is completely honest, and answers many of the questions I have along the way. And I really "get" how she turned from a suburban girl into a prostitute. Somehow she managed to convince me that this could happen to anyone. And I do not think less of her for it. You can see the growth/change of the character, particularly when she got the first tattoo. However, I wonder how she spent all of that cash so fast! I hope to read more by this author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2010

    So So

    The topic was intresting. I enjoyed reading about everything she went through in Brunei. But everything else was boring. I was constantly skimming & skipping pages. I would not recommend this book to anyone.

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