Luecha’s memoir of astonishing brutality and miraculous salvation details her trials of being treated like chattel in 1960s Thailand.
The eldest child of a large, chaotic family, Luecha—Awe, as she’s known—"had been beaten since infancy." Raped for the first time when she was 4 years old, she had “the mentality of a Roman soldier” by the time she was 5. The daughter of a one-time nightclub singer and a high-ranking government official, she was surrounded in her formative years by a beloved great-grandfather, the “wise Sinsae of Nakornpathom”; a grandmother, who was more like a mother; younger siblings, mostly sisters; and a predatory stepfather, “Paw.” In order to escape Paw’s constant abuse, she ran off to Bangkok with dreams of school and a respectable job. Instead, like the frequently mentioned scent of garlic cooking, “karma” followed her in the form of repeated gang rapes and forced sexual servitude to a family of pimps, from whom she sustained “an almost daily harvest of punishment.” Her life among the young girls, who served up to seventy “Doors” (i.e., johns) a day—earning their “whalish cartoon” Boss a pretty penny—resembled a modern-day, highly sexual Dickensian universe. By 1972, when she was 14 and relatively free, Luecha estimates she was raped more than 9,000 times. Through her strength of character, modeled on her movie hero, Steve McQueen, and her passion for books, Luecha escaped her captors, returned home and put her siblings through school. Luecha’s astonishing gift for conjuring the smells, sights and sounds of her rich, turbulent homeland often captivates, despite the sometimes-unbearable pain and suffering she and others endured. Assured writing dotted with delightful similes and Thai expressions carries the reader through multiple detailed horrors with unexpected bursts of beauty and joy. Most surprisingly, Luecha retained her childlike sense of humor through the darkness. After a beating, Luecha writes, “My left eyeball disappeared for awhile [sic] behind a red curtain.” Her best friend and “model of cool,” Ying, simply told her she looked “like an angry squirrel.”
The lurid title belies the elegant poetry, honest humanity and complex culture exposed within.