Pretty Woman meets “Cinderella” in Navarro’s novel, which explores a troubling relationship, the first of a proposed trilogy.
Kristina Rivera, a young girl born into a large Philippine family in the 1970s, narrates her life. Her early years were full of love and happiness, but the death of Kristina’s father when she was 6 marks the beginning of a hellish descent that results in Kristina being sold into prostitution to support her family. Despite numerous brutal events—including rape, repeated beatings, cocaine addiction, and an abortion she is all but forced into—Kristina maintains a core of decency and optimism, which is seemingly rewarded when she falls in love with Alain, a French oil executive. He whisks her off her feet, eventually moving her to a lovely home in Kuala Lumpur. But Alain has secrets, and the birth of healthy twin daughters doesn’t lead Kristina to trust him or live an independent life. Navarro’s writing is self-assured; Kristina is a fully realized character surrounded by colorful, if occasionally cartoonish, characters. The relationships Kristina forms; the contrast between wealthy, modern Malaysia and the poverty of Cebu, Kristina’s home province; the tawdry clubs and bars where Kristina works: all are rendered with verve and skill. This skill also helps disguise some inconsistencies within the story. Many readers may object to Kristina and Alain’s relationship; they had sex when Kristina was in her early teens; by the time she becomes pregnant with Alain’s daughters, she is only 16 or so. While this is certainly consistent with the experience of many unfortunate girls worldwide, this reality does not make the subject easier to digest, and as this novel is the first of three, it may be a make-or-break point for many.
Strong writing and a compelling protagonist propel Navarro’s narrative, but the novel’s problematic romantic relationship may offend readers.