Mission Impossible: Fallout

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After reading about the hype surrounding Tom Cruise over the latest installment of the Mission Impossible franchise, I decided to satisfy my curiosity by going to a cinema in my neighbourhood to watch it today instead of waiting to borrow the disc from the library a few months later. Well, my curiosity has been satisfied and I can say it’s worth the price of a senior citizen’s admission ticket, though I must admit to yawning more than a couple of times and getting a short shut-eye during the two-and-a-half-hour movie.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the previous one had a better story line. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) works with a team to prevent a group of terrorists from detonating bombs in major cities. The cast includes Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Michelle Monaghan, Alec Baldwin, Vanessa Kirby, Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett. The cities involved include Berlin, Paris, London and Kashmir.

Some exciting sequences (aka big car and motorcycle chases) take place in or near iconic places like the Grand Palais, Notre Dame, St Louise Bridge, the Arc de Triomphe and the streets of Paris near the Eiffel Tower. There are awesome panoramic aerial shots of snow-covered mountain tops, glaciers, the river below and even a fight on the edge of a cliff after a helicopter chase. From the end credits, I gather these scenes are probably shot in Norway or New Zealand.

What I like most is the music. The motif of the Mission Impossible theme is heard throughout, scored differently each time to capture the mood of the scene. There is a lot of use of percussion, snares and bongos to create a jaunty staccato momentum; this contributes to my not yawning too often! The French song, La Vie En Rose, played during a scene in a toilet lends some lightness to a serious fight.

The amount of work behind the scenes must have been tremendous and involved many talents too – from the stunt coordinators and performers (there are a few long lists), the photography department, the art and set designers and decorators, the carpenters, the trainers and technicians, the team responsible for the visual and sound effects, the engineers and digital artists, the computer graphics and animation designers and those in charge of the location and logistics to the musicians (of the orchestra and choir).

As Tom Cruise is a producer of this franchise, it is no surprise that he appears in practically every scene; he also performs all his own stunts, which is impressive, considering his age. (I don’t know of many Hollywood actors in his age group who can do the same.) I’m curious if he would continue to do this in another installment of Mission Impossible.

 

Rising Star Series by Students of Dr Khoo Hui Ling

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When I found out about this performance a couple of weeks ago, I was very excited.

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I had watched numerous performances by Hui Ling since she enrolled in the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) as a piano major. One of the most memorable performances was when she played Gershwin’s Concerto in F at the annual Conservatory Concerto competition, which she won.

Hui Ling went on to study piano at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and then the University of Oregon, where she obtained her Doctorate in Piano Performance in 2016. She is now an adjunct lecturer at YSTCM and teaches the Higher Music Programme (HEP) at the Nanyang Girls’ High School (NGHS) and runs a private piano studio. Today’s six performers are from her private studio.

After a short welcoming speech by Benjamin Shaw, the Assistant Manager of Steinway Gallery who organises the Rising Star Series, Hui Ling took to the stage to introduce the day’s programme, titled ‘Of Myths and Legends’. It is titled such because music always tells a story, like how we communicate to the audience about the composer’s intentions and dreams.

The first performer Melody Li (aged 10), played Macdowell’s Shadow Dance op 39 No 8 (fireflies, represented by the high register and the fast and light tempo), Albeniz’s Asturias (Leyenda) from Suite Espanola (a legend about a camel and women, with traces of flamenco music) and Debussy’s Golliwogg’s Cakewalk from Children’s Corner Suite (a story of Golliwogg dancing and sneaking into a house to steal cookies unsuccessfully but not caught and dances out of the house). Melody also writes poetry and plays the violin. Coming from someone so young and petite, the very solid fingerwork and high degree of accuracy, coupled with the energy and verve displayed in her performance is impressive, to say the least. She will be making her Carnegie Hall debut in October this year.

The next two performers are sisters Claris (10 years old) and Crystal (12), who brought along their laminated water-colour paintings that depict the pieces they play:

Claris played Chopin’s Prelude in B Minor Op 28 No 6 (a lone paper boat on a quiet and calm sea depicting Chopin’s struggles) and Debussy’s Passepied from Suite Bergamasque (two dancers with exquisite footwork represented by the staccatos and the LH melody). I was most impressed by her exquisite pedaling and her total immersion into the music.The announcement that she won the Platinum Award at the Singapore Performers Festival came as no surprise.

Crystal played Schumann’s The Prophet Bird from Waldszenen op 82 (about a lone bird that came upon a blood-sucking flower held by an enigmatic lady deep in a forest) and Chopin’s Etude in C-sharp Minor Op 10 No 4 (a ferocious picture of strong waves that conjures a brewing storm as depicted by the music, nicknamed the “Torrent” etude). These are profound works and it is amazing that such a young girl could execute the technical demands and challenges so well that she appears to be enjoying herself and not stressed. Art clearly flows through the veins of these sisters.

Victoria Yong is a young lady who is preparing for her ‘A’ levels this year, and she reminds me of Yuja Wang (from her dressing to her playing). Her Les rappel des oiseaux by Rameau is a programmatic piece. The call-and-response between the birds are depicted by the trills and quick-running notes. Her Excursions Op 20 1st and 4th Movements by Barber is really good. My liking for anything jazzy and syncopated aside, I really enjoyed Victoria’s solid fingerwork with the right amount of energy balanced by a gentle touch in passages that are not written as percussive (such as repeated chords in the LH ostinato). I’m sure she’ll get a distinction in her coming ‘A’ level Music Elective.

14-year-old Loi Yi Xuan, from NGHS’s HEP plays Haydn’s Sonata in C Major, Hob XVI: 50, 1st Movement (a piece I only learnt when I was doing my Piano Teaching diploma and which Lang Lang chose to include in the programme for his debut concert at Carnegie Hall), Chopin’s Etude in A-flat Major Op 25 No 1 “Aeolian harp” (which I would not even attempt to play but is among my favourite recordings by Lang Lang) and Tchaikovsky’s Dumka Op 59 (another favourite of mine and which is extremely challenging to play). Her playing is so good that my jaws drop and I can’t find words to describe it. I’m sure she makes her teacher, her family and all who know her very proud. She took part in the Golden Classical Award and was placed First in the Intermediate category and will be making her debut at Carnegie Hall in November this year.

Andren Koh is currently doing his National Service. Knowing what National Service is like, I’m full of admiration for him: how did he find time to practise, and at this level? Ondine, from Preludes Book 2 No 8 by Debussy describes a mischievous water spirit (with the sweeping arpeggios representing splashes of water) with a seductive side that becomes intense (the harmonies and shift in dynamics); Scriabin’s Sonata no 4 in F-sharp Major Op 30 describes man’s longing and desire to reach out for the distant star; it is slow and dreamy, with no break before the 2nd movement which is fantasy turning into reality. The sense of flight can be heard in the leaps, melody and constantly driving momentum, personifying constant yearning. I look forward to more of Andren’s performances when he enrolls at the YSTCM next month.

The final piece is a duet by Victoria and Andren. Their Sonata for 4 hands, 1st movement by Poulenc is wonderful; a real aural and visual treat.

It has been an entirely enjoyable afternoon. It’s is commendable that Steinway Gallery organises the Rising Star Series on a monthly basis to provide a platform for young musicians to showcase their craft. It is a unique musical set up to identify and nurture a vibrant music community. I only wish I am able to attend them more often.

 

 

A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea

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A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea is a memoir by Eunsun Kim (a pseudonym used to protect the author’s relatives left behind in North Korea), written with the help of Sebastien Falletti and translated by David Tien. It details how Eunsun escaped the bloodthirsty regime of Kim Jong Un with her mother and sister in a dangerous and agonising nine-year journey to South Korea, leaving a little brother behind in China.

Eunsun was born in North Korea, one of the most secretive and oppressive countries in the modern world. Her father died of malnutrition and, as a malnourished 11-year-old, thought of suicide when her mother and older sister left her alone for days to look for food.

To save their lives, Eusun’s mother took the girls to the freezing Tumen River in an attempt to cross over to China on the other side. They were forced to retreat because the river was too deep. Homeless, they lived on the streets which ended violently when the mother was caught stealing cabbage. They returned to the icy river for another attempt at the perilous crossing. They arrived in China shivering and fell into a stupor, and were soon accosted by a kind-looking woman who offered to help them. It was a trick to sell them to a Chinese farmer (for a pitiful 2,000 yuan) who wanted a son and free labour, with the promise of registration papers and education. Life grew more and more miserable, and they tried to escape with no success. The Kims were deported to Chongdin. Once again, they crossed the Tumen River and the sisters later managed to find work in Shanghai.

The mother stayed behind because of her young son but was eventually forced to abandon him. The three of them travelled to the north, arranged by shady Chinese smugglers, in a beat-up car for five hours and instructed to climb a fence and run for their lives in the Gobi Desert. They ran for more than an hour and made a three-hour trek before sighting two Mongolian men. They were taken to a cave for confinement and  interrogated for a month at a military base. It had taken them nine long years to reach South Korea.

Much later,  Eunsun took a long flight from Seoul to Chicago and transferred to Springfield in the Midwest, the realisation of a dream. She stayed in Missouri for a year to improve English and study psychology. Before that, she had visited Paris. She found American society “cosmopolitan” and “mixed”, and the people friendly. She was invited to London to speak on a talk show about the release of the book in Norwegian. She has travelled to Jakarta to meet the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights. It is her dream to one day see North Koreans free from a dictatorship that has kept the people in fear, misery and isolation from the rest of the world for decades.

This memoir is absolutely moving, heartbreaking, inspiring and incredibly gripping. It is another eye-opening and valuable account of life in North Korea and a powerful testament to the tenacity of the human will.

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer

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I always anticipate movies starring Richard Gere, and I’ve waited to watch this movie at the cinemas for almost two years. I doubt it was shown at the cinemas, and I was more than excited to find this in a community library.

This is only the second of all the movies I’ve watched where the protagonist appears right from the opening scene that left an indelible impression. The other is Franny, also starring Richard Gere.

Richard Gere is Norman Oppenheimer, President of New York based Oppenheimer Strategies. His business is consulting work in American-Israeli business and politics. Most of that work is as a fixer: doing work that others don’t want to do and which they don’t want to be officially associated. His office comprises his cell phone and whatever is stuffed in the satchel always slung over his shoulder as he wanders the streets. What he promises is making connections, setting up meetings between people by dropping names of people he usually doesn’t know to make connections. He would exaggerate his friendships with some people as a way to connect with others, but sometimes get into trouble. He likes to help people as it gives meaning to his life.

I can’t think which other actor could have brought out the character of Norman as well as Gere. On the surface, Norman is a ‘bore’ for he is always on the phone via earphones and pestering people, he’s always clad in the same overcoat, is seemingly homeless and at times seem to be overshadowed by other characters (such as the politician he befriended, played by Lior Ashkenazi). Yet the extreme and insidious manipulation that he is involved in at this level is made believable. When Norman’s house of cards eventually collapses, I feel for him.

Gere’s Norman is annoying and irritatingly unlikable, yet endearing. He is arrogant, yet vulnerable; desperate for acceptance, yet with few admirable attributes. He is relentless, and what he becomes is justified and painful. Things get complicated in the plot, and Norman (Gere) complicates it deliciously. Gere never disappoints, and I am eagerly looking out for his Time Out of Mind.

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer is a serious story with quirky, delightful music. (The score is beautiful and lovely, and I especially like the temple choir singing songs in Hebrew.) Like a lot of art, this fascinating movie is open to interpretation. In a way, we are all Normans. Everybody at some point in their life feels like an outsider trying to get in. They are surrounding us. There’s something pathetic and charming, heartwarming and awful about Norman. Gere has made Norman come alive.

My Mother’s Secret

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I’m always enticed by books with the word ‘Secret’ in their title, and when I pulled this one out from the library shelf, I discovered it’s an international bestselling novel based on a true holocaust story. I’ve read a few of these, and having visited the Auschwitz Concentration Camp on a study tour to Poland with my students, I was very eager to read this book by J. L. Witterick. I was even more keen when I found out that author was originally from Taiwan and immigrated to Canada with her family in 1968.

My Mother’s Secret is a novel based on a true story. Franciszka and her daughter Helena are simple people who mind their own business and don’t stand out from the crowd…until 1939, when crisis strikes. The Nazis invade Poland and start to persecute the Jews. Providing shelter to Jews has become a death sentence, and yet Franciszka and Helena do exactly that. In their tiny two-room home in Sokal, they cleverly hide a Jewish family in a loft above their pigsty, a Jewish doctor and his wife and son in a makeshift cellar under the kitchen floorboards, and a defecting German soldier in the attic — each party completely unknown to the others. For everyone to survive, Franciszka will have to outsmart her neighbours and the German commander standing guard outside her door.

The story takes us on a heartfelt journey; it is told simply and succinctly from four different perspectives, and My Mother’s Secret is a testament to the kindness, courage and generosity of ordinary people who choose to be extraordinary. This strong message is told in a quiet and unforgettable way.

I read somewhere that it is a luxury to be able to read lots and lots of books; most are enjoyable, but some make an impact. This is one of those. Some memorable snippets from the novel:

  • Franciszka is outspoken and says what she believes: “If you choose to do the right thing, it is a conscious decision at first. Then it becomes second nature. You don’t have to think about what is right: doing the right thing becomes who you are, like a reflex. Your actions with time become your character.”
  • Sanitation is poor, and with the overcrowding, disease is rampant. Rats are healthier than people who live in the ghetto. Franciszka’s help is sought: “People are like water in a pond where you cannot see the bottom. You think you know where it is shallow and where it is deep, but it’s only when you have to dive in headfirst that you find out where it is truly deep.” Everyone lived each moment not knowing if it will be their last. The family hidden in the pigsty lived in constant fear, but had to fight the boredom in each day and week. Boredom can make one careless.
  • The German soldier remembers his grandmother’s advice: “Trust no one”. This war makes no sense: how can war be based on persecuting people? He is hidden in Franciszka’s attic to evade the war. Meeting Franciszka and Helena, he realises that courageous people are afraid like anyone else. They just act despite the fear.
  • Helena knows it is the cleverness of her mother that made the Germans see them differently from their neighbours. “You never get used to the fear. It appears out of nowhere, while you are walking, eating, sleeping, and yet you go on because there is nothing else to do.” Almost everyone has a family member or friend who has been killed because of the war. Having kept the secret for over a year, Franciszka thinks they may be caught, but she and Helena can’t bring themselves to make everyone leave. It is exhausting to live with constant fear, tempered by nothing but hope. Hope is the strategy to stay alive.

Eventually, the first Jewish family immigrate to the United States, the other family move to Palestine and the soldier returned to his grandmother’s farm. They all find their own place in the world, but all of them are forever connected by a bond that will survive time and distance. Franciszka and Helena move to Switzerland, a country as untouched by was as any could possible be in Europe.

The final quote in the book is by Sydney J. Harris: Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.

I read this book in one sitting, and am overwhelmed. I don’t remember, but I think Franciszka’s and Helena’s photographs must be among the exhibits in the Holocaust Museum since this is a true story.

A Lesson

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Been told to be wary,

But didn’t think it would turn scary;

Made to feel so weary,

With reprimands made unfairly.

 

A simple enquiry

Was deemed to be too wordy;

When it’s all entirely

Misunderstanding and fury.

Not easy to bury

Feelings that are warty;

People can be quirky

And this can lead to jeopardy.

All these are entirely

Avoidable and made blurry,

If there’s nothing wormy

In making someone a quarry.

The Gangster Squad

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I fell asleep watching this in the cinema five years ago, and I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I’d fallen asleep watching a movie in the last half century! When I saw this at the library, I decided to give it another go. This time I didn’t fall asleep (maybe because of other distractions) but I still found it dull.

Based on the book by Paul Lieberman, the story is set in 1929 in Los Angeles. The city is run by Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) who has bought local judges and police, as well as squeezing out competition by violence. A special unit is formed to take down Cohen, with Sgt John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) being tasked by police chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) to lead a squad to deal with the problem. The squad is ready to take Cohen down and restore peace to the city.

There is a very large cast, including big names like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, but they only add to the confusion and mess. There is also no great performances, no spectacular sets, and no big moments. It’s just bloody and violent and forgettable. The only nice thing is the music:  jazz songs Mr Five by Five, Perdido, Route 66 and blues, upbeat and soft music played in the movie.

Perhaps because it’s lacklustre and under-developed, I was able to pen a poem during the 110-minute movie!

The Spy Next Door

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The last time I watched a Jackie Chan movie must have been close to two decades ago. That was before the scandal involving his illegitimate daughter. Recently, I came across the 2010 The Spy Next Door and decided to see if I would enjoy it. And I did.

The main title design is reminiscent of a James Bond movie – especially the music, which is upbeat, lively and rhythmic, with footage from some of Chan’s earlier movies like The TuxedoOperation Condor 1Rush Hour 1Rush Hour 2. (I had not watched any of these movies but I recognised the well-known stunts as the trailers were shown on TV often enough.)

Jackie Chan is Bob Ho, an international spy from the Chinese Intelligence Agency, on loan to CIA as an undercover agent. He lives next door to Gillian (Amber Valletta  ) who has three children: Farren (Madeline Carroll), a step-daughter, Ian (Will Shadley) and Nora (Alina Foley). None of them know about his job. When Gillian has to leave the children to visit her father in hospital for a hip replacement after a fall, Bob offers to babysit the children as he is keen on getting into Gillian’s good book. He also understands that any man who marries Gillian, it’s a package – three kids plus a pig, cat and turtle, though the kids are not too fond of him at this stage.  (He thought this is a good opportunity to bond with the kids: “I brought down three terrorists. How tough can kids be?”)

Meanwhile, jailed Russian terrorist Anton Poldark (Magnus Scheving) has escaped prison and Bob is activated, though he has decided to retire after putting Poldark behind bars. Bob is given a file for a top-secret formula for an oil-eating bacteria Poldark is working on. Bob did not get a chance to download it but Ian downloaded it into his iPod, while snooping around Bob’s house, thinking that it is music. Poldark discovers the download and sends his men to Bob’s house but Bob overpowers them and brings the children to hide in a Chinese restaurant, and is forced to reveal his identity to them as well as Gillian.

Gillian rushes home but Ian and Farren have run away – Ian wants to become a spy and follows Bob, and Farren runs after Ian. Bob, Ian and Farren are captured by the Russians who force Ian to reveal where the file is. The trio manage to escape and go to Gillian’s house, and find Poldark and his men arriving soon after. They fight and of course the Russians are eventually arrested. Gillian realises that Bob is a good man when Nora says she wants him to be a dad (and furthermore, who else would sing her Chinese lullabies? Chan really performed Fal Chen & Xi Lin’s Ba Ma De Hua), and Farren and Ian convince Gillian that Bob lied to protect them.

One message I like here is that “Family isn’t whose blood you carry. It’s who you love and who loved you.” The final (wedding) scene with Farren, Ian and Nora with Bob is so moving that I teared. (Something rather unexpected in a Jackie Chan movie.)

Jackie Chan is famous for doing his own stunts, though the work of the stunt coordinator and players, including stand-ins, must not be undermined. The set designers and decorator, the graphic designer, the prop makers, the technicians, the sound editor, those working on the visual effects, even the helicopter pilot, all help to make this movie a success. There is a lot of excitement, action and fighting , but there are also light scenes that are cleverly made and entertaining. As is characteristic of Jackie Chan movies, the Blooper Reel played during the end credits is so funny and such a delight, like a gem on a crown.

Becoming Nicole

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I was attracted to Amy Ellis Nutt’s Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family because I can’t recall the last time I read a book written by a Pulitzer Prize winner. The critics’ review that “it’s the story of a family struggling with – and embracing – a transgender child” and “more than that, it’s about accepting one another, and ourselves, in all our messy, contradictory glory” also served as enticement for reading.

There is a quote at the beginning of the book from Michael Proust’s Time Required: “What we have not had to decipher, to elucidate by our own efforts, what was clear before we looked at it, is not ours. From ourselves comes only that which we drag forth from the obscurity which lies within us, that which to others is unknown.” And I’m further intrigued by Ommia mutantur (“All things are changed.”) from Ovid, Metamorphoses, which appears one page just before the Prologue, in which it is revealed how at two years old, Wyatt is mesmerized by the shimmering sequins on his pink tutu.

Identical twins Wyatt and Jonas were adopted by Wayne and Kelly Maines who thought their lives would now be complete. Wayne and Kelly had been married for five years, and for three of these years Kelly suffered through multiple miscarriages as well as months of tedious and painful fertility treatments. Kelly’s 16-year-old cousin was “in trouble” and didn’t want to have an abortion but was also too young to raise a child on her own. It wasn’t long before Wayne and Kelly noticed a marked difference between the twins: Wyatt loved everything Barbie while Jonas loved everything Star Wars, Power Rangers and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Wyatt was obsessed with Ariel and at three years old told Wayne that he hated his penis.

Wyatt turned out to be different so Kelly dressed him in girls’ clothes. Kelly searched online and found ‘transgender’ which sounded like Wyatt. Wyatt referred to himself as a “boy-girl”, and asked Kelly ‘when do I get to be a girl’ and ‘when will my penis fall off?’ Wayne didn’t know how to deal with the situation.

Wayne wouldn’t allow Wyatt to wear his favourite pink princess dress for the family party but Kelly was “allowing” Wyatt to act like a girl. Kelly didn’t know any other boy (than Wyatt) who so consistently thought and acted like he was a girl. Wyatt was seven years old when he saw a therapist; he said, “you know, I can have an operation that would fix me”.

Wayne didn’t want to deal with his feelings about Wyatt so he handed everything over to Kelly. Jonas told Wayne: “Face it, Dad, you have a son and a daughter”. Almost everyone else in Wyatt’s orbit accepted him for who he was – a boy who wants to be a girl – but sometimes people don’t understand. His greatest fear was going to high school looking like a guy. The closer he got to puberty, the more anxious and upset he was.

Wyatt had to undergo psychological tests before taking puberty-blocking drugs so that he would never have a visible Adam’s apple, no deepened voice, no accelerated height, thicker bones, or facial hair. Even before he legally became Nicole Amber Maines, Wyatt  wore skirts to class, was elected class vice president, and signed up for choir and violin lessons. But he was bullied and experienced real depression.

It was decided that Kelly and the twins would move to another city for middle school. Wyatt attended camp for transgender girls. After Wyatt came out as Nicole, she became a minor celebrity. It was hard for Jonas, the other twin without the unusual story. He didn’t have his own story. His life revolved around Nicole’s; he’d had to make sacrifices being Nicole’s brother. Jonas found solace in music and poetry.

Nicole was scheduled to have her surgery in her senior year in high school when she was 17 years old. she would need to take female hormones the rest of her life and she would never be able to have her own children. Well, as long as she is happy…

It is a very enlightening book. I think everyone should read it, especially those who profess to be good Christians yet are biased against a LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) person, for , quoted early in the book is a verse from 1 Samuel 16:7But the lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height… the lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the lord looks at the heart.”

Breaking Free

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Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery by Abby Sher was published in 2014. This is important to know because in 2012 & 2013, there were allegations in The Cambodia Daily and in 2014 Newsweek , there was a cover-story that Somaly Mam (the inspiration of this book, and whose story is recounted here) had fabricated stories of abuse about herself and others. These allegations were reported in The Straits Times five months later when Mam resigned from her position to help rescued girls. The author, Abby Sher, thus, cannot be faulted for not doing a good job in her research about modern slavery.

I have no idea what has happened to Mam or what she is doing now, but her story still tugged at my heartstrings. An example of telling fiction from fact is this: An “orange woman” is a young girl who sells oranges in the public gardens of Cambodia, but when a man buys an orange, he also buys the right to fondle the girl. Add another 25 cents and he can have sex with her. I believe that even if Mam had fabricated some parts (she might or might not have been an “orange woman”) of her story, a large part must be true. In any case, her dedication and vision for a mission in speaking for the girls still imprisoned (for surely there still are), in helping newly rescued girls who come to the shelter shocked and confused, in attending hearings in court on cases against traffickers and in helping to advocated for victims’ rights to protect young women are all very noble.

The second story is Minh Dang’s. She grew up in a quiet suburb of California, was abused by her parents (overwhelmed with fear and pain, she had been sexually abused by her father from the time she was three years old, ‘condoned’ by her mother) and sold to local brothels for most of her life (her parents forced her to work in the back private rooms of a cafe for people to pay to use her body however they liked). Dang had sleepless nights and was exhausted and depressed. Her parents were her torturers: what they did to her was cruel and unacceptable, brutal and inhumane. It was only in college that she started to feel empowered to change her life. She learned all the essential skills to become a trained therapist and social worker; she saw how she could start over and how she could help other people her age discover truths. She not only survived but also made her life all about giving when so much had been taken from her. The responsibility of being a survivor spokeswoman was a lot to carry on her shoulders.

The third story is about Maria Suarez, the 11th of 14 children in her family. He father was a farmer and her mother always busy. When she was 15, her father announced he needed to go to Los Angeles to get an American residential card; she begged to go along. There, she was approached by a kind-looking woman who asked if she was looking for a job. She was then sold to a brujo (a witch who practised black magic) for $200 and held in captivity for almost six years. She was framed for the murder of the brujo and sentenced to 25 years’ jail. University courses were being offered in the prison and she signed up for English, computer science and social work. When she was released from prison 20 years later because it was proven that she had nothing to do with the murder, she was sent to a detention centre to be deported as the law had changed while she was in prison. When she was finally freed three years later, she was introduced to a network of other survivors and former inmates who were starting their lives.

The three stories are harrowing but inspiring. They are told with care and compassion, highlighting a courage and resilience of each woman. The message is that even in the most tragic of circumstances, the unwavering hope and compassion of the human spirit can and will shine through.