In the Mail: biography/memoir edition

–>  The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam

Publishers Weekly

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.

–> Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J. E. B. Stuart by Jeffry D. Wert

Publishers Weekly

Wert (The Sword of Lincoln) adds to his status as a top-ranking Civil War scholar in this excellent biography of the Confederacy’s best-known cavalry general. Jeb Stuart’s reputation has faded somewhat in recent years, particularly for his alleged failures during the Gettysburg campaign. Wert integrates comprehensive archival and printed sources to describe a man shaped by a zest for life, religious faith and devotion to duty, who from his youth sought achievement and recognition. Soldiering promised both. The initial dominance of Confederate cavalry in the east during the Civil War was a product of Stuart’s skills as leader and organizer, trainer and tactician. Above all he was a master at reconnaissance and screening. His decision at Gettysburg to ride around the Union army instead of rejoining Robert E. Lee was a mistake. But its serious consequences were in good part due to Lee’s dependence on his now-absent source of reconnaissance, and the Union cavalry’s ability to learn from repeated defeat at Stuart’s hands. Wert’s biography goes far in restoring Stuart’s claim to be “the greatest cavalry officer ever foaled in America.”

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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