The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam


Story of a girl from Cambodia
The Road of Lost Innocence, a true story of a Cambodian girl who was sold as a young girl many times over. Who lived her youth as a prostitute. But who managed to get out of it to help many like herself out of it. An incredible story that will leave you sad for many days. And will make you wonder what drives humans to be so cruel to other human beings especially to women.

This is a personal account of the author who was born in mountains in a minority ethnic group. But was brought over by an elderly man whom she referred to as Grandfather – more as a matter of speech. As a young girl, she had to work and earn for this man. And work as a human collateral when his debts went overboard. She also finds an adoptive family in the same village that helps her with some affection and education. They treat her like family but cannot do much with respect to the grandfather – the man who owns her.

She is sold to a brothel eventually. And then begins her saga of being a prostitute. She tries to escape only to discover that in the name of escape she has been sold again. She finally settles down for the brothel. And gives up any attempts to get out of that life till she meets some foreigners who shower her with not only more money but some dignity as well. She figures out that they can be her route out of prostitution. And she ends up marrying one of them and that changes her life forever. Her own countrymen treat her better. That gives her the power to work for girls who are stuck in the brothels. She sets up a shelter for them, an international charity for them works hard to get these going and wins awards around the world.

What stands out in author’s story is her change of attitude after she came in touch with westerners. Like most women from her country, she believed that the parents or husband or the one who bought them own a woman. And it’s their inherent duty to earn for them by any means. She never thought there was anything wrong with this. This is what women in Cambodia believed and lived through. It is when she goes to Europe after marriage and lives an equal life there that she understands the meaning of independence. And the fact that women ought to have the same rights as men. To me, it was this attitude change that gave her the strength to first live a dignified life. And then go and help others do the same.

At an emotional level, the book leaves you torn. You feel as if you have been on a brothel tour and you have seen those brutalities happening on young girls. And you feel helpless that you can do nothing for them. You wonder if there are similar things happening in our very own cities too that we conveniently close our eyes to and the answer is perhaps yes. Will I go and do something about it – I do not know, but it does make me sensitive to the conditions of these women. And if life sometimes brings me face to face with some of them, I would probably be more understanding after reading this memoir.

I am yet to visit Cambodia. There is little I know about that country except for the visuals of Angkor Wat temple seen on TV and Web. Though The Road of Lost Innocence is no way a travel book, it still introduced me to the life in Cambodia. The value systems there, the concept of family, the tribal culture and the various ethnic groups. And how much they were cut off from the rest of the world till lately. It also touches upon the various regimes and wars that have impacted the common lives. And the way people lost trust in each other. And how their world started shrinking to an extent where it was limited only to ‘Me’.

The Road of Lost Innocence is a very touching read… read it if you have the strength to deal with it.

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  1. Yes a touching read but a little bit of delving will show you that Somaly Mam is careless with the truth to the point where it’s hard to know how much of her story is true and how much is fiction. I’ve gone from being an admirer to becoming a sceptic.


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