“Locked Rooms: the Story of an Algerian Jewish Prostitute,” released on Amazon Kindle by Nouveau Monde editions, is the work of Germaine Aziz, who died in 2003 at age 77 after having survived daunting challenges. Aziz’s memoir, which originally appeared from Les éditions Stock in 1980 and was reprinted in 2007 by Nouveau Monde, is marked by the eloquence of plain speech.
Aziz was born in Paris to a grievously poor Algerian Jewish family – her father was the son of a noted rabbi from Oran. After her mother’s early death, Aziz was sent to live with relatives in that city’s Jewish ghetto. There, she noted that Arabs and Jews were “intertwined, united by the same music, the same poverty, the same language.” Both were also despised by French colonials: “Jews and Arabs received the same contempt from Frenchmen, as picturesque elements, foul but colorful.” Aziz’s life alternated between celebrating Shabbat at her paternal grandfather’s home and hearing anti-Semitic insults from the French. These became worse during the Second World War when Aziz observed, “There was no need for the Germans to occupy Algeria for hostility towards Jews to spread.”
To escape crushing poverty, at seventeen, Aziz accepted a job as a bar hostess in Bône, a city in northeastern Algeria now called Annaba. Her employer enslaved her as a prostitute, forcing her to work in windowless rooms. In the original French, her title “Les chambres closes” also implies “sealed rooms.” Aziz vividly describes the odors, diseases, and filth she endured in a series of brothels, where she was bought and sold with no chance of escape, due to police and governmental cooperation with a system that treated prostitutes like chattel. For fifteen years she tried to flee, before finally returning to Paris in the 1950s and comparative liberty, albeit that of a streetwalker.
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Is there anything more reprehensible than white-collar crime? Certainly, there are any number of moral offenses that may trump the impulses of rich white men to make themselves even richer. But even the most egregious of these can be rationalized (rightly or wrongly) through psychological profiling and the ascription of some mental disorder or social disease. But piggybacking on the investments of the working people to defraud them and pay yourself a salary in the hundreds of millions of dollars? Rationalize that. Unless the DSM-IV has a listing for “jackass,” these guys are crooks, plain and simple.
As the self-appointed “Sheriff of Wall Street,” Eliot Spitzer did fine work rounding up these overpaid criminals and muscling them into the national spotlight. As New York’s Attorney General, Spitzer exceeded the call of duty, setting his sights not just on local scam and flam artists, but on all kinds of corporate and securities hucksters. He was the brash, two-fisted brawler who knew that the only way to clean up white-collar America was to bust the right skulls. He was a thorn in the side of rich white men hoping to hold themselves above the law and moral responsibility. To others, he was kind of a hero.
Then he had to go and have sex with a couple of prostitutes.