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'Shattered Dreams, Broken Promises' Recounts Immigrants' Obstacles on Road to America


Around the world, women are lured into the sex trade or low-wage work in sweatshops by the promises of a better life. A book by author Michael Viner called "Shattered Dreams, Broken Promises" tells the stories of women from Russia and Eastern Europe who escaped poverty to face trouble in the United States.

Viner collected accounts from women from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe who have come to America, or who plan to come here, beginning with an elderly widow who lives outside New York. Now 82, she had turned to prostitution as a teenager to support her brothers after her mother died. The writer says she was exiled to a Russian island reserved for prostitutes.

"And they lived in very bleak circumstances," Viner said. "They made their money by the grace of sailors who came through and stopped, and lived in ramshackle homes from discarded wood and ships and pieces of throwaway things from other very poor people. And this island existed for many years."

The woman eventually met and married an American and escaped her life of hardship.

The writer interviewed 200 women for the book, both in Russia and the United States. Two dozen tell their stories in the finished volume.

Viner says most are recent émigrés, who sought to escape poverty and bleak conditions in post-Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe.

"As a rule of thumb, things are getting better now, but still, of the 200 people I interviewed in the book, between 75 and 80 of the women, their first [sexual] experiences were rape," he said. "And in about 160 of the cases, they were raised by their mom, without a father there."

A young Los Angeles immigrant named Jitka is from the Czech Republic, and identifies with the stories in the book. She was lured to America 10 years ago by a newspaper ad, and found herself working long hours seven days a week in a labor crew that contracted with a major supermarket chain.

"I found this ad in a newspaper saying that I can get a job in the United States," he said. "And because I always wanted to come to America because I knew America from the TV, and I always liked it, but I didn't know that the reality is so much different from what I had seen on the TV."

Jitka trained as a nurse in her native country and is aiming for a career as a medical assistant.

Author Michael Viner says despite the hardships, some of the women he interviewed, like Jitka, have done well, but many have faced hardship.

"While there are studio heads today married to women from the former Soviet Union, you will see more of them in shops and dance halls and all sorts of work because they're here underground waiting for papers or marriage or wanting enough money to take care of their mothers, their daughters," he said.

He says these are stories of survival of women who were determined to build a better life, despite the obstacles.

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