Milena shines necessary light on an industry that is more pervasive, and powerful, than most would like to consider.
Jorge Zepeda Patterson’s Milena, or the Most Beautiful Femur in the World is a breathtakingly savage thriller set within the confines of the worldwide sex trade.
All Alka ever really wanted was more: more than her Croatian hometown, at least, that offered few options beyond marrying a working boy and growing prematurely old. But a promise of better opportunities proved to be a farce, and Alka found herself trafficked as Milena, one of the most sought-after prostitutes in Europe. Persuaded into a conspiracy against the most vicious bosses of one trafficking ring, she finds herself hidden away in Mexico, where she is briefly rescued before being forced to flee again.
Her situation comes to the attention of Tomás and Amelia, two childhood friends-cum-lovers with a penchant for seeking justice. They are eager to save Milena from a certainly violent end; to do so, they will have to mend bridges with a less savory friend, and discover the truth behind a vicious network that keeps women enslaved and politicians on call.
The narrative strikes a curious balance between the almost unbearable scenes of Milena’s entrapment and the more procedural moments of the friends’ investigation. Strong rapport, and engaging backstories, between Tomás, Amelia, their friend Jaime, and a newspaper heiress, Claudia, lends the work a series feel, with the tensions and methods between them unfolding in involving ways. Three young protégés lend bravado, and even a bit of romance, to the dangerous chase.
In contrast, Milena’s insights—captured most plainly in a tell-all that she’s penned, Them—reveal the nastiest aspects of the trafficking industry, including the absurd means that its organizers and customers use to justify their dehumanizing behavior. Chapters alternate between such perspectives, appropriately spaced to avoid the despair that might pervade if Milena’s story were left to function on its own. The novel’s bleakest moments are also its most realistic.
For all of its darkness, Milena is a novel that holds attention through to its satisfying—if not ultimately very hopeful—end, shining necessary light on an industry that is more pervasive, and powerful, than most would like to consider.
Michelle Anne Schingler
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