Saturday, 20 July 2024

The Truth Be Told: Realities Narrated in Fiction and Nonfiction

Written by  Alejandra Gotóo Feb 12, 2024

This article might be distressing. Continue at your discretion. Fiction protects the readers. It allows us to come close to the characters, their feelings, and their lives, but always through some sort of protection. It comes to mind the concept of simulacrum from Jean Baudrillard: “It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real". It is a looking glass that reflects what could have happened given different circumstances. But, nonfiction removes the protection from the imaginary. It shows reality not as it could have been but as it was. Sometimes, the real becomes too raw, yet we could not argue it is not the truth.

I need to write about The Road of Lost Innocence, by Somaly Mam. I heard about her on a podcast by a psychiatrist, Marian Rojas-Estapé. I have read the book and have found reasons to dislike human beings, as well as have found other reasons to be hopeful. Perhaps there are two categories of humans, although I am inclined to think anyone can commit terrible acts, and I hope that anyone who has committed them can change for the better.

The book deals with Mam’s childhood and her experiences as an orphan in post-Pol Pot’s Cambodia. She had no one to protect, love, teach, or help her find her way in life. Yet, she has done more than many, and she has inspired me. She was sold into prostitution when she was 15, and she was already been raped several times.

This is a very sensible topic, I am aware. I need to write about it because I believe silence is not the solution. Previous generations have remained silent in front of abuse and I want to try a different approach. Two or perhaps three years ago, on a Women’s Day, a group of young women in the school where I taught literature showed a video speaking up about the abuses they have lived (in school, at the streets, and at home). This was in Mexico City, a very nice school, where money was not the problem. Yet, women were not protected. They were young, around 16 years old. They were so brave. They raised their voices. Their messages were clear: “This has happened to me”, “You are not alone if that has also happened to you, “You are not the problem, “You did not deserve it.”

In Mam’s book, she shows her vulnerability and fears. She did not speak before about the things that were happening because she was ashamed. While she experienced the abuse, she felt isolated. I write to break silences and to help people realize that this is a huge problem that needs to be faced. Perhaps you have experienced sexual abuse, maybe you know someone that has, even if that person has not told you about it.

How can we start to have these conversations? We need to break the taboo. Women who have suffered abuse are not guilty, unclean, or undeserving of love. I did not write victims because I will not oversimplify all their lives for something that they suffered. Women who have been abused are much more than victims.

The book is a journey of self-discovery and resilience. Mam’s life before her marriage is characterized by tormenting relationships with men. And while her husband is better than the other men around, he cannot embrace the emotional part that an intimate relationship conveys. He tries or seems to, but he yells and loses his temper. Yet he supported her with money, time, and resources to start the AFESIP (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations) project.

I recommend reading this book but cautiously. It is distressing.

It reminds me of the phrase: Ignorance is bliss.

Yet, we cannot afford to be ignorant when, according to WHO and UN data: “Globally, 6 percent of women report that they have been subjected to sexual violence from someone other than their husband or partner. However, the true prevalence of non-partner sexual violence is likely to be much higher, considering the stigma related to this form of violence” (WHO, UN)

I hope that you want to help. Here is a short list of how:

Educate yourself, reading, attending workshops, researching… it is always helpful to know about stuff. While knowledge itself will not change the wrong situations, it helps. A lot of women will be inspired by you, trust me.

Do not protect guilty men. We all know someone who enjoys “dating” very young women or who “jokes” about abuse. It is never a joke; do not allow them. If you suspect something, please tell the authorities.

Believe if someone tells you about her situation. I know this might be complicated because how can you be sure? Well, why would they lie?

Empower women around you, help is not only needed in Cambodia. Violence toward women is a worldwide situation.

Listen and talk. It is fundamental to raise our voices. It is essential to listen. It helps realize the scale of the problem as well as create a network of like-minded people.

Reading nonfiction can be distressing. When we read fiction, we can always think that the events narrated might be hyperbolized, reduced, or altered in any way. We might be reading about something grotesque, but surely it did not happen. Right? Sometimes, real life is harsher than what we would like to think. Thus, we might try to improve the conditions for more and more people, more and more females, in this specific context. I am counting on you, dear reader.

This is the problem.
She knows by now that people
do not behave the way she wishes them to.
So what should she do, change wishes?
-Margaret Atwood


Alejandra Gotóo (Mexico City, 1991) writes to explain herself the world where she inhabits. Her work has been published in Spain, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Croatia. She holds a master's degree in Social Anthropology and a bachelor's degree in English Literature. Nowadays, she is a columnist in Dubrovnik Times. She has two published novels, Ruptura and Isadore or Absolute Love. Her topics of interest include nature, adventure, language, books, food, culture, animals, conservation, and women's rights. She also writes in her blog: Cardinal Humours.

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