Modern-Day Slave Narratives
Email this review


First-person testimonies that probe the continued chilling practices of forced labor worldwide.

Mindful of the use of the word slavery as reference to the uniqueness of African victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Murphy (English/Loyola Univ. New Orleans; Metaphor and the Slave Trade in West African Literature, 2012) nonetheless insists that slavery by any other name remains intractably a crime against humanity. This includes forced labor, chattel slavery, debt bondage, forced sex work, child labor, military conscription and forced fosterage. With as little editing or “packaging” as possible, the author represents each category by numerous narratives as documented by NGOs, investigative journalists or government transcripts. The narratives offer the raw details by real people, most of whom have now been freed from oppression; many now work for activist organizations like Free the Slaves (as does the author), the names of which appear in an appendix. For example, Helia Lajeunesse, a native of Haiti, was orphaned very young and taken in by a neighbor who abusively forced her to do all the housework without schooling or pay, a cycle repeated in subsequent households; Lajeunesse’s inability to leave underscores the exploitative nature of a “false familial structure.” The author includes many narratives of young women from Eastern Europe or East Asia forced into the sex trade as young as their early teens: Lured by the promise of legitimate work, they were raped and beaten, confined and forced into punishing work schedules that led to sickness and death. Ultimately, they were “disposable,” treated as “flesh” by vicious and unscrupulous men who thought only of their monetary value. Like 19th-century slave narratives, many of these accounts reveal moments of silence or deflection due to the painful memories evoked.

An “open condemnation” of modern slavery that builds powerfully by testimony.

Pub Date: March 25th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-231-16423-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2014


FictionFORTY ACRES by Dwayne Alexander Smith
by Dwayne Alexander Smith
NonfictionTRUEVINE by Beth Macy
by Beth Macy
IndieChild Sex Slave: A Memoir by Monluedee Luecha
by Monluedee Luecha
NonfictionA LONG WAY GONE by Ishmael Beah
by Ishmael Beah