Keller offers a debut novel about the life of a Thai prostitute.
Young Ae Lin grows up in a poor community in Thailand, and her family’s concerns primarily revolve around having enough food to eat. Any hope for a better life seems a distant dream, so it comes as a surprise when Ae Lin is told that she is being sent away with her so-called uncle Jook to attend an expensive school far away from home. She bids farewell to her family, who bought her a special dress for the occasion. However, Uncle Jook, “a man of sour temper and even fouler breath,” has no intention of sending Ae Lin to any school. Instead, he ushers her quickly and painfully into a new life as a prostitute. Although she’s initially shocked and humiliated, she eventually settles into the daily existence of a sex worker at a bar run by her stern Auntie. She lives with a group of girls from similar backgrounds who do their best to survive their often chaotic, violent profession. The novel intersperses these scenes with those of the modern-day Ae Lin, who escaped her life as a prostitute and now runs a small café; she seeks spiritual guidance to help her escape the emotional pain of her past. When her sister arrives to tell her that their father is dying, Ae Lin must reconcile with her past, her present and the family she left behind. The book effectively examines the prostitutes’ difficult lives, outlining the terror, boredom, sisterhood and despair of their daily routines. However, readers may find it difficult to firmly grasp Ae Lin’s inner life; the earlier part of her story, in particular, does little to establish her as a memorable character among the many other unfortunate women. Overall, despite Ae Lin’s poignant desire to escape prostitution, the novel doesn’t quite manage to bring her to life as a unique individual.
An intriguing fictional look at Third World sex workers with an underdeveloped protagonist.