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Life Interrupted: Trafficking into Forced Labor in the United States
Duke University Press Books, 2014
304 pp., $25.95
D. L. Mayfield
For many, including myself, "trafficking" is synonymous with sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery. Denise Brennan, writing specifically about trafficking into forced labor (which thrives in the garment and agriculture industries in America), is striving to change that perception. Her book Life Interrupted: Trafficking into Forced Labor in the United States details the mounting reasons why individuals find themselves in situations where they are forced to work with little to no pay, in dismal conditions, without knowledge of their rights. As I ticked through the usual feelings that come when faced with horror in my own proverbial backyard—surprise, righteous anger, slow-ebbing guilt—I wondered why this was perhaps the first time I had thought long and hard about labor trafficking in the United States. Brennan herself would categorize my ignorance as a byproduct of a larger trend in public consumption: "women working in brothels fit the public imagery of trafficked victims—men picking fruits and vegetables simply [do] not spur the same call-to-arms."
Brennan, an anthropologist who writes about trafficking, immigration reform, and women's law, understands the cultural cachet that certain narratives enjoy. Life Interrupted was written to pick up "where the sensationalist accounts leave off." Indeed, Brennan seems determined to write the book that no one else would care to; instead of focusing on the hellish conditions surrounding a person's journey into trafficked labor, Brennan focuses on the mundane challenges that victims face after they have walked away from their abusers. She tells stories about "building a life" after life has dealt a very cruel hand, and she's intent on introducing the reader to "real people, not mythologized versions of 'trafficked people.' "
The very real people portrayed in Life Interrupted do shine brightly; their stories make it personal for ...