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4.2 out of 5 stars
Orange Is the New Black: My Time in a Women's Prison
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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Anyone spending any time online during 2013 will have struggled not to notice a TV series called 'Orange is the New Black', which was the most viewed show commissioned by Netflix (a comedy filmed by Lionsgate) during the year. I had a holiday coming up as autumn approached and for a whole bunch of reasons went straight for Piper Kerman's original book, on which the TV series was based. Which for the sake of clarity will make you smile but unlike the show isn't written for laughs.

Piper Kerman comes from a middle-class family, is smart, well educated, is a pretty blond with blue eyes and possessed of a love for male and female partners. She also has an irresistible bohemian itch that leads her on all kinds of adventures and ultimately to jail.

During her mid-twenties she couriered drugs money as a favour and to pay a debt to a long term partner. She was arrested for the crime years later, when the drug syndicate collapsed and her ex-partner gave her name up as part of a deal. More than half a decade after being found guilty and being sentenced, Piper finally ends up in jail. The main focus of the story covers her thirteen months in jail.

The quality of the novel is that most educated, relatively law abiding citizens, will relate to Piper. She is a largely innocent everywoman, catapulted into the American penal system. And before anyone gets bent out of shape on the question of innocence - if you see this modern world in the black and white of right and wrong, the good and bad, then read on, this book might open your eyes.

Aside from the sincerity and lightness of touch in Piper's writing, the human story is what shines through. Piper waves away her fiancee and middle-class life, some ten years after her freely admitted crime, and goes from citizen to con, keeping her head down and trying to stay out of trouble. As she eases into life inside we meet a wide number of characters and rather than the violence you might expect, we are treated to people trying their best to deal with an inhumanity inflicted on them by the system, the size of the system and the futility of jailing people who have few choices in life but to return to that life. It is the interaction of the characters and Piper's enigmatic attempts to deal with these new experiences and the people who change her, that makes this such a captivating read.

The last time I read a book that felt this honest and insightful was Belle de Jour, for completely different reasons. There is a very compelling and perceived sincerity in the detail of every page that doesn't sensationalise the reality. The focus here is on the human, a very female story, captivating for its raw honesty.

Orange is the New Black is a rare book that has you experience the story, laugh and cry with the characters. We turn the last page grateful it wasn't us but also better for the shared experience.

Very highly recommended. I hope this review was helpful.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
In preparation for going to serve her prison sentence, Piper Kerman conducted research about the literature on the prison system, prison life and the experiences of former prison inmates. But this quest gave her devastating results because all she found was intended for men. Therefore, the 'Orange Is the New Black' is her contribution to the women's side of the story from the other side of the bars.

Piper Kerman was graduated theatrologist from a family where education was valued, who in an effort to experience some adventures after graduation met Nora, slightly older woman who soon becomes her girlfriend. In their turbulent relationship the will be drawn into the drug trafficking and money laundering, and Piper, feeling that the adventure came to an end, left. Her past will catch her up few years later, as young woman with a great job and even better man beside her, forcing her to replace New York replaced with Danbury, her everyday clothes with the prison uniform, and her name with identification number 1187-424. For the next 15 months.

The biggest quality of this story lies in moderation and authenticity of narrator. Kerman skillfully immerses and emerges from prison every day, putting before the reader a simple, easily digestible, yet evocative story devoid of heavy and dark parts. In fact, these moments in Piper’s story are spiced with, sometimes black, humor, which, in addition to relieving the reader shows in a very subtle way if you ever find yourself in jail how to deal with difficult situations. Her stay in prison Piper, partly because of the time, looks with the emotional detachment and her story is devoid of any pathos, self-pity, or the need for self-justification, however, dosing a wide range of feelings was included to show the reader all the states through which one prisoner can pass - shock and disbelief when leaving a world of freedom, gradual adjustment and refusal to adapt to prison rules, so different from those in the outside world, the search for own place and role in the prison social order, overwhelming feelings about own ability to adapt to new conditions, and confusion about the release to freedom.

The best are, however, described relations among inmates. Unlike many authors, Piper Kerman first present those qualities on which the reader might discriminate against her characters, such as the type of crime committed, sexual orientation and gender identity. And, while the other authors first make readers to love some characters before inserting "but ..", Piper depicts how in the prison you first encounter with the hardest thing a person could give, and if you can handle it, there are very good chances that you will get through the "softer "part. She does not condemn because she doesn’t want to be condemned, because she wants to be accepted and helps because she knows how much she needed help. She seeks to stay out of prison conflict, but very skillfully place them in a microcosm composed of two hundred women and their guards, often dominated by illogical rules and prisoners whose power lies not in force, but in the knowledge or skills they possess on which other prisoners depend.

The additional value of this story in a very gentle but powerful way to turn the reader's attention to the situation in US prisons, the relationship of power and subordination in which the main role is played by prison guards, the immense paperwork whose timely processing enable or disables visits, phone calls, shopping in the prison shop and even urgent release to freedom due to emergencies, in all kinds of prisoner rights deprivation. For readers who remain immune to it, the author of the text very skillfully hid startling data on the number of imprisoned people in US, the total annual growth of these figures and the number of prison reconvalescents.

Many will blame the book for inadequate characterization, but their flatness is just a reflection of the lack of space for multi-dimensional development of the personality behind bars, sensory numbness, which is probably the best way to preserve sanity in jail or formal writing style, characteristic of the works that draw inspiration from own life.

What should be kept in mind is that this novel, just as it is not a work of fiction is neither a universal truth. "Orange is the New Black" is skillfully formulated confession, the experience of a young woman, seemingly in no way did not fit into the prison system, but she still came out head held high and with a huge smile on her face. This work will surely stand on book shelves together with male prison works of literature and thus some new Piper help opening up the world found on the other side of the lock.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
I am British so my comments are as an outsider.

This book is one that once you start reading it you cannot put down. It can be challenging at times, There are characters in here, most of them prison staff, for whom it is difficult to feel any sympathy but we must remember that they are victims of an insane and underfunded system too.

After reading this it is difficult not to view the system as broken.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2015
Like many people, I bought this having binge watched the television program and wanting more! This book is quite different than the program. It maybe isn't as riveting but I enjoyed it for other reasons. The Piper who wrote this book is very different from the oe on Netflix. She writes a less sexualised story. Things in this book aren't so drama driven as they are tense. She focuses on the friends she made in prison, and how they were affected by there time there. She is critical of the american prison system and their ineffective skills in rehabilitation. She gets into the heart of basic human rights and what it means to be a person who has broken societies rules. The most refreshing part of the book is her constant struggle to better herself. She accepts how her crime has affected others and pushes towards rehabilitation and forgiveness. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to feel hope and hopelessness at the same time. It is also worth mentioning that it is also hilarious and very well written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 October 2014
Having absolutely loved the TV series, I thought this book would be a really interesting read. I was wrong. Gave up halfway through as Piper Kerman comes off as a very self-involved, bland writer. How they managed to make such an entertaining series out of such a dull book I will never know!
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4.5 stars

I've never seen the TV series, but it is the reason I read this. My husband is a big fan and I was interested enough to want to know the 'true' story of a woman's incarceration.

If you are wanting to read it, expecting the same characters and plots as the TV show, be ready to be disappointed. As my other half tells me, none of that is in the book.

Which was fine by me. I found this pretty fascinating anyway - a story of Piper's youthful misadventures, illegal drugs experiences leading her a decade later to self-surrender and to spend a year and a half in her thirties in a women's prison.

She's not your typical prisoner, which is probably why I found it so interesting - a loving fiancee waiting for her, books delivered to her regularly - could be me, could be people I know. This boiled down to: this could be me if I'd made a stupid mistake. How would I cope? What would I experience?

A supporting cast of colourful inmates and guards surround Piper as she at first keeps her head down and later learns to trust and value friendship in prison. Being a UK resident as well, seeing the inside of America's prisons was also enlightening. Their job programmes, the 'cliques', food, shops, facilities.

This audio version accompanied me on several jogs. Though I occasionally realised I was forgetting who was who in the prison, I really enjoyed listening to Piper's account of her incarceration, how she is treated, the unceremonious end to it all, her gradual realisation of the gravity of her crime and how it affected other people.

Honest and an entertaining read. Just not the TV show.
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4.5 stars

I've never seen the TV series, but it is the reason I read this. My husband is a big fan and I was interested enough to want to know the 'true' story of a woman's incarceration.

If you are wanting to read it, expecting the same characters and plots as the TV show, be ready to be disappointed. As my other half tells me, none of that is in the book.

Which was fine by me. I found this pretty fascinating anyway - a story of Piper's youthful misadventures, illegal drugs experiences leading her a decade later to self-surrender and to spend a year and a half in her thirties in a women's prison.

She's not your typical prisoner, which is probably why I found it so interesting - a loving fiancee waiting for her, books delivered to her regularly - could be me, could be people I know. This boiled down to: this could be me if I'd made a stupid mistake. How would I cope? What would I experience?

A supporting cast of colourful inmates and guards surround Piper as she at first keeps her head down and later learns to trust and value friendship in prison. Being a UK resident as well, seeing the inside of America's prisons was also enlightening. Their job programmes, the 'cliques', food, shops, facilities.

This audio version accompanied me on several jogs. Though I occasionally realised I was forgetting who was who in the prison, I really enjoyed listening to Piper's account of her incarceration, how she is treated, the unceremonious end to it all, her gradual realisation of the gravity of her crime and how it affected other people.

Honest and an entertaining read. Just not the TV show.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 6 September 2013
Never heard of this book until I watched the tv show (which is fantastic) the book I must admit is less exciting than the show but much more insightful and realistic. A great read and well written.
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on 21 July 2015
I really enjoyed the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, and I was delighted to find out that there was a real-life memoir on which it was based. So, I hurried out and got it on my Kindle.

I did enjoy this book; it was an easy read, and an interesting one, and really added something to my experience of watching the show. I would certainly recommend it to any fans of the show as a foil to the experience of watching.

I did have some reservations. While acknowledging the existence of institutionalised racial and class prejudice, the tone tended towards the “I see now what I have done, and I have learned my lesson, and now I go back into society pitying those poor black/Hispanic women locked into a cycle of crime, and now everyone else can see how I have become a prison-mending superhero”, and I feel very conflicted because I am sure she has struck a huge blow for women in prison, and I am sure she does make a big difference on the board of prisons now she is a free woman, but in the end I found it a little self-congratulatory.

It’s a little navel-gazey, a little self-regarding. That niggled at me a little, but overall I would strongly recommend this book. And the TV series, at that!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 November 2014
Watched the TV series and thought I'd buy the book. It's not as good as the show, has much more of an Eat Pray Love self-helpy feel to it, and is a bit self-congratulatory in places. Still interesting but less of a story, more of a documentary/biography. You get less background on the other women than in the series as well, though it's fun learning about the real people the show is based on.
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