With the assistance of co-author Vollers (Lone Wolf: Eric Rudolph: Murder, Myth, and the Pursuit of an American Outlaw, 2006, etc.), actress Judd delivers a keenly felt memoir of a dysfunctional upbringing twined with an adult life of progressive social advocacy.
Some wag once said that the Judd family put the “fun” in dysfunctional, but Ashley remembers the turbulence rather differently, as “a family full of hatred, fighting, accusation, manipulation, abandonment, and emotional and physical abuse,” with everything “from depression, suicide, alcoholism, and compulsive gambling to incest and suspected murder. Judd examines her difficult history, braiding it with her current days as a committed activist for human rights. Though she calls readers’ attention to her movie-star status as she rubs humanitarian-circuit shoulders with Bono, Juanes (“the Colombian rock superstar”) and Bollywood’s Akshay Kumar (“the Indian equivalent of Will Smith or Bruce Willis, but with a fan base of a billion people”), she also comes across as a piercingly effective global ambassador for Population Services International, tackling issues of reproductive health and child survival. At first, she was undone by her visits to third-world brothels, but she eventually realized that her own sexual abuse was causing the over-identification, subverting her agenda. “I understand the urge to rescue everybody,” says her PSI boss, “but that’s not how it works. PSI is not a rescue organization. We are a public health organization.” The author writes with a sure hand of the many difficult themes she addresses: her journey of emotional recovery (a fine chapter on her rehab for codependency and depression), her spiritual quest, finding the humanity in the sexual perpetrators and making tangible her toils for social justice. Judd is also a solid painter of place, from the most squalid sex factory to the rural sweetness of her Tennessee home.
A passionate reminder of the breathtaking misery of so many lives, and one woman’s work in their service.