The journey of a teenaged theater-school dropout enticed into traveling to Southeast Asia to be a “harem girl.”
Christened “Mariah” by her ballerina birth mother, the author was renamed “Jillian” by her Jewish adoptive parents who acquired her through an illegal “gray-market” transaction. A rocky childhood in suburban New Jersey was followed by a hardscrabble tenure in Manhattan after the author abandoned a New York University education, opting instead for the “proverbial school of life.” Desperate for cash, she exchanged waitressing for stripping, then began escorting for a madam. In the early 1990s, a lucrative offer to “amuse a rich businessman in Singapore” seemed too good to pass up, and it was revealed that the job was really with Prince Jefri (nicknamed “Robin”) of the affluent Brunei royal family. Eager to be relieved of her East Coast “bohemian mantle,” Lauren abandoned a loving boyfriend and her hospitalized father to embrace an “alarming recklessness,” flying to Singapore with only $30, which she spent on a cab to the airport. Together with “Destiny,” another girl chosen from the interviews, Lauren arrived at a high-walled palace, was stripped of her passport and embarked on a life of endless late-night parties populated by beautiful, multicultural and highly competitive women. Crash courses on etiquette, bowing, Muslim customs and basic subservient behavior ensued, all preparing her for the brilliance and ease of an opulent lifestyle with playboy prince Robin. After extending her stay, however, depression, homesickness and harsh reality sent her back to New York, where an unwelcome pregnancy spurred a fruitless search for her birth mother, along with a few shocking twists. Lauren, who considers singer Patti Smith “the barometer of all things cool and right,” is a deft storyteller, imparting equal parts poignant reflection and wisdom into her enlightening book.
A gritty, melancholy memoir leavened by the author’s amiable, engrossing narrative tenor.