Tuesday, March 6, 2012

this is our story, a book review

Wendi Adelson wants you to know that the human slave trade still exists today. She wants you to know that there are women and girls all over the world--even in the United States--who do not possess control and freedom over their lives or their bodies. She wants you to know how such an atrocity of human behavior could still occur in the modern world. Furthermore, she wants you to know that if you are a person of relative privilege who can afford the time and money to get yourself an education, then you should consider going to law school and becoming as she puts it, "an advocate for those whose voices have been taken from them."

It is for these reasons she has written the fictional but very real book entitled, this is our story. And it is for these reasons I would advise you to pull up a chair and start reading.

In a world where people often don't give a lot of credit to all the good that attorneys do, Ms. Adelson's story comes to us as a shining example of something incredibly amazing that can be accomplished with a law degree.

What I like most about this Florida State University law professor and public interest lawyer's novel is that her characters, Mila and Rosa are so alive that they practically walk right off the page. They are not romanticized, flawless, simple dupes; but complex thinking, feeling, erring human beings. Perhaps she is able to make her characters seem so real because they are indeed composites of actual people with whom the author has spent countless hours. I submit, however, that the true reason Ms. Adelson is able to bring these characters to life is because of the clarity, conviction and passion with which she writes. It has been said that the most effective lawyer is able to help her clients by telling their stories in a compelling way.

This is exactly what she has done here.

I also appreciate that through this novel, Ms. Adelson is able to express a little-heard and unconventional point of view of the immigrant, which has been lost in the current American political discourse. She states it succinctly through her quasi-autobiographical character, Attorney Lily, who bristles at the use of the term "illegals" to describe her clients:

I know a lot of people use that word and don't mean anything by it, but people also use the word to dehumanize immigrants, and make them seem like they aren't people, just "illegals" that don't have any right to be here, so we can do to them and dispose of them as we see fit. Really, though, folks, there is no such thing as an "illegal" human being. Yes, there are people in this country who lack the proper papers and who don't have the correct immigration status, but I would never call them "aliens" or "illegals."

Food for thought.

My only complaint is how Ms. Adelson's lawyer character tells her own story while constantly annotating her writing with footnotes. I find the footnotes most distracting, yet I know she has done this because it is one of the idiosincracies of Attorney Lily (and perhaps Ms. Adelson herself?). Although I am not a fan of the footnotes, I have to admit I was compelled to read them anyway and in fact one of my favorite lines in the book comes from the one at the end of Chapter 35 reminding us that the suffering of victims doesn't end just because they have been rescued:

Our story continues just as life continues, for all victims of trafficking who go on living. Sometimes, surviving day to day or even minute to minute is a challenge...Our story could never be tied up in a neat package. Our story keeps going, long after you finish this book.

I also have to take issue just a little bit with the character of Attorney Lily herself. Not because the author has done anything wrong, rather because she has done such a good job bringing her to life.  This character falls into some common wellness traps of attorneys, such as overwork and neglect of her personal relationships. In fact, Attorney Lily is so relatable, I feel like a friend of hers from law school who must sit her down woman to woman to force her to talk things out, if she'd only let me. There has to be a way that attorneys can do meaningful and important work and still lead happy, balanced lives and I want this both for Lily and for myself. I have to assume that this is the one area in which the author's life deviates in reality from that of her character.  In fact, it is her real life husband, with whom she has two small children, that encouraged Ms. Adelson to write this book in the first place. I'm glad he did.

This is our story is a very important book indeed.

It reminds us that there is much work to be done and that we have the power--lawyers and non-lawyers alike--to make a difference in the lives of those who may need a hand up. I personally will recommend that my own law students read and be inspired by Ms. Adelson's book with the hope that it will encourage them to pursue a career, legal or otherwise, helping others. Furthermore, this book has inspired me to join my local chapter of Zonta (http://zonta.org), an international organization dedicated to advancing the status of women worldwide that raises awareness and money for the abolishment of human trafficking and other acts of violence against women.

For I have now heard the story of "Rosa," "Mila," and "Lily." And I will continue to listen.

No comments:

Post a Comment