Vacation Cruise to Europe

Dream Vacation, New Book, and Good News for Autism Community

It has been over a month since I posted my last blog. I have been very busy with good things. One of them is I took my very first cruise. I never thought I would ever do it (Images of the movie The Poseidon Adventure, which I saw as a child, prevented me from ever considering a cruise), but a family wedding and the chance to see Europe overrode my fears of water. I am so glad because I will always look back on this trip as a truly wonderful experience. The past year and a half have been stressful for me and my family because my father-in-law was very sick. Unfortunately, he passed away in May. But this vacation cruise convinced me that this world is filled with so many wonders and experiences that a person should never give up hope that things can always turn around.

We traveled to Barcelona and Mallorca, Spain; Marseilles, France; and Florence, Rome, and the Amalfi Coast in Italy. It was a trip of a lifetime!

The staff on the cruise were so accommodating and eager to help make the vacation as enjoyable as possible. I felt, “Yes! We deserve to be pampered after all our years of hard work and struggles. Why not enjoy it.”

Another reason to celebrate is my second novel is in the proofreading stage. Like True Mercy, my latest literary effort took about four years to write and edit. Now I have to find a cover designer and decide how to distribute the novel. Unlike the first, my second novel is women’s fiction and the main theme is self-acceptance.

Months ago, I posted a rough draft of my second novel on Wattpad, an online community for writers and readers, and when I returned from my trip, I was pleasantly surprised to find more followers.

Surely, life can turn around!

I am also happy to report that hard-working special-needs advocates are beginning to see progress in their ongoing battle to support the autism community.  Whether you like President Trump or not, you have to give him credit for extending the Autism CARES (Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support) Act for five more years. The President reserved $1.8 billion dollars for this extension. In addition, the Autism  CARES Act will require the Department of Health and Human Services to compile a report for Congress about the health and welfare of individuals in the autism community.     

And that’s not all. Insurance companies in all fifty states are now required to cover on some level the treatment of autism that is deemed medically necessary, including ABA (applied behavior analysis).

I will most likely be only able to blog once a month from now on, but I am determined to write news of interest to my readers on a variety of topics, including the latest on autism, human trafficking prevention, inspirational stories, and book reviews.

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Book Review: Marking 75 Years of the Liberation of Paris, a Review of Mistress of the Ritz

August 25 of this year marked 75 years of the liberation of Paris from the Nazis. In honor of this historic event, I am posting a review of the novel Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin. The story is based on the real lives of Blanche and Claude Auzello, an American woman and her French husband. Together they managed the Ritz, Paris’ world-famous hotel. They hosted many notable people of the time, including Earnest Hemingway, Coco Channel, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They were living the good life until the Nazis took over the city. Then the Auzello’s were forced to follow their orders and make them comfortable while fearing for their lives if they did not comply. However, in secret, they helped the Resistance at every opportunity. Below is my review:

Mistress of the Ritz was an engrossing book based on the lives of the Frenchman Claude Auzello and his American wife, Blanche. Claude ran the famous Paris hotel, the Ritz, during World War II. The Ritz was the last name in luxury, and famous people frequently stayed there. Author Melanie Benjamin captures the opulence of the hotel amidst the horrors of the war. Claude and Blanche had a difficult marriage-Claude was unfaithful and they kept secrets from each other as they struggled to survive the war years and waited for the Allies to liberate the country from Nazi occupation.

The writing is extraordinary and the reader cannot help but get lost in this story of the Nazis taking over the hotel, the Resistance’s covert operations to undermine them, and Blanche and Claude’s efforts to deal with each other as well as the German invasion. Benjamin portrays the darkness and hardship of the occupation vividly. The reader cannot help but be terrified for the Jewish families who disappear in the middle of the night. With the exception of the collaborators, the French hate the Nazis but must be subservient to them if they want to stay alive. 
Toward the end of the story, the author reveals the biggest secret of all, but I figured it out because Benjamin alluded to it often enough. The ending was shocking and leaves readers with many questions.  Recommended.

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Human Trafficking on the Rise: Current Statistics

About seven years ago, I saw the movie Taken. I remember being shocked and traumatized that such evil as kidnapping innocent young girls into human trafficking even existed. It stayed with me and when I decided to write my first novel for publication, I did research on human trafficking. I learned that it is the third largest criminal activity in the world, behind drug trafficking and counterfeiting, Taken took place in France and a European mafia was involved, so I decided to keep the European mafia in my novel but have the victim be from Moldova.  At the time, it was the European country with the most victims of human trafficking.*

When True Mercy was published in December 2016, most people were still learning about sex trafficking. Since then, this crime has made headlines all over the world. Keith Raniere, founder of the self-help organization NXIVM, was convicted of sex trafficking, ISIS terrorists are forcing under aged girls into marriages in the Middle East, and schemes have come to light of older men manipulating teenage girls into sex trafficking.

By now, in August 2019, the number of cases has exploded. The latest to make headlines is the recently-deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein, who has been charged with sex trafficking and sexually assaulting under aged girls.

Recently, I read a report published last month in USA Today. The following are some shocking statistics:

  1. The UN’s International Labor Organization reported that over 70% of sex trafficking occurs in Asia and the Pacific, 14% in Europe and Central Asia, and 4% in the Americas.
  2. It is estimated there are 4.8 million victims of sex trafficking in the world, 1 million of them children.
  3. In the United States, 1 out of 7 runaways are believed to be victims of child sex trafficking.
  4. Girls in foster homes are particularly vulnerable to traffickers, who manipulate them by making promises to love and take care of them.
  5. Worldwide forced sexual labor is a $99 billion dollar business. 
  6. There are approximately 9,000 massage parlors that engage in sex trafficking in the US.

Why is there so much human trafficking in the world? One factor involves armed conflicts. In many of these countries, displaced civilians suffer loss of their livelihood. They are forced to desperately search for other means of survival and often fall prey to manipulative traffickers who promise them work overseas but end up enslaving them or forcing the women into marriage.  This occurs more frequently in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Another factor is high unemployment. For example, when the Soviet Union was dismantled in 1991, Moldova became an independent nation but then suffered economic collapse. This left many people poor and the young people seeking to leave the country. Unfortunately, many fell prey to human traffickers.

Since there is more awareness of human trafficking, organizations have formed to combat it. Examples include Polaris, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office). But more work needs to be done and everyone can help.

If you need help or see something suspicious, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, text “BeFree (233733), or chat humantraffickinghotline.org.

* A report by the US State Department cites Belarus, Iran, Russia, and Turkmenistan are the worst countries now.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller designed to bring more awareness to the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy may be purchased on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and Kobo.

References

  1. Kelly, Cara (29 July 2019) “13 sex trafficking statistics that explain the enormity of the global sex trade.” USA Today. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  2. “Human trafficking cases hit a 13-year record high, new UN report shows.” UN News. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
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Nadia Murad: A Former ISIS Sex Slave Speaks Out

Last week I watched the moving PBS documentary On Her Shoulders. It is essential that anyone concerned about human rights watches it in order to be aware of the brutality committed by ISIS terrorists. Their massacres and dismantling of Yadizi communities in the Middle East must be stopped.

On Her Shoulders relates the story of Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman who was living peacefully with her family in the Iraqi town of Kojo. The Yazidis are a people that live in northern Iraq, northern Syria, southeastern Turkey, the Caucasus area and sections of Iran. They incorporate many different religions in their beliefs, including Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  Observing their own distinctive religion has created tension with their Muslim neighbors.

Nadia’s life and the lives of her fellow villagers were shattered on the fateful day of August 3, 2014. Islamic State terrorists attacked her village and massacred 700 people who were simply going about their daily lives. At 19 years old, Nadia, many members of her family, and thousands of other women were taken as sex slaves, continually beaten and raped.

Nadia escaped but has since devoted her life to traveling around the world and speaking about that day, pleading with world leaders to stop the ISIS genocide of the Yazidi people and free the 3,200 women still in captivity, including her own sisters. The documentary showed her telling her story again and again in Germany, Canada, and Greece. Nadia testified before the United Nations Security Council in 2015 and the following year became the first survivor of human trafficking to become the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. In 2018 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Despite Nadia Murad’s efforts to inform the world of ISIS’s killings and holding women as sex slaves, it is still taking place. Thousands of Yazidis live in refugee camps in various countries as ISIS terrorists continue committing atrocities in countries like Iraq and Syria.

On Her Shoulders can be viewed online at http://www.onhershouldersfilm.com/. Anyone concerned about genocide and sex trafficking needs to watch this documentary.

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Book Review: Dreyer’s English

I was an unusual kid in school – I loved English grammar. I still remember diagramming sentences to demonstrate my understanding of the different parts of speech. Reading Dreyer’s English brought me back to the days of my high school English classes.

Of course, reading an entire book about straight grammar, style, and punctuation would be dry and boring, even for me. But this book is anything but. Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House, gives entertaining and often humorous explanations and comments while writing about proper English usage and style. Dryer writes about words and rules in which people often make mistakes. Some examples include similarly-spelled words like aid and aide, which titles need quotation marks and which require italics, and the frequent mistake of using two words when one is sufficient (For example, the term “free gift” is a redundancy). Dreyer uses famous people, books, TV shows, and songs as examples. Together with his wit, Dreyer’s English a pleasure. While I was reading, I started wishing I became a copy editor myself because he made the rules so fascinating – I would love to work with words on an everyday basis. My only complaint is the footnote symbols are so tiny that I often missed them, so by the time I got to the bottom of the page, I didn’t know which section each footnote was referring to. Overall, it is a handy reference book for everyone.

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