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Judd offers a tale of trauma, recovery, service to others

Posing for the cover of her memoir, Ashley Judd looks like a serene, glamorous movie star who's never suffered through a rough day in her entire life.

And God knows, she has a lot going for her -- striking beauty, solid talent as an actress, a degree from Harvard, a bank account that undoubtedly contains millions and a storybook marriage to Dario Franchetti, one of the world's most famous race car drivers.

But open the book, start reading and you quickly realize this woman has had to deal with demons since she was a young child.

In "All That Is Bitter & Sweet," she reveals that she was:

Molested as a child.

Raped as a 15-year-old.

Bounced back and forth like a tennis ball by two battling parents who had an ugly divorce.

Ignored and left alone for weeks at a time by her famous mother and sister, who went off into the world of country music as the highly successful singing team called The Judds.

Judd, now 43, messed with drugs and considered suicide in her teenage years. She says she finally got her head on straight in recent years after participating in counseling, yoga and 12-Step programs.

All the tribulations listed above seem like plenty of fodder for a moving "movie star tells all" memoir, but the hard times she experienced are just one facet of the book.

Unlike many people who deal with heartache by drinking, using drugs or just wallowing in woe, Judd decided years ago to deal with her problems by giving of herself to others.

For the past nine years, she has served as a courageous ambassador to troubled countries all over the world. Her cause is safe sex and AIDS prevention in countries where health care is so shoddy that people have trouble getting simple items like bandages and aspirin.

Her memoir is two books, really. Part of it deals with her troubled childhood, her screwed-up family and the steps she finally took to deal with her demons. She has some harsh words for her mother, Naomi, writing that some of the life story her mother has put out to the public is phony. But she also says she loves her deeply.

Some readers who aren't famous millionaire actresses will tire of Judd's family complaints, but some will find her recovery from depression very inspiring.

The other part of the book deals with Judd's worldwide crusade and the ghastly things she has seen in places where most of us would be afraid to venture.

She visits a brothel in India where young women and children are literally sex slaves, spending months at a time -- and even years -- in a single, filthy room where they service men all day, every day.

She writes of places in Africa where human life -- especially a woman's life -- are virtually worthless. Health care is practically nonexistent, and AIDS is an epidemic.

Most of us don't even want to read about such places. Judd risks her life and seeks them out, going to the most dangerous, out-of-the-way spots, preaching and teaching safe sex.

In my book, that makes her nothing less than a hero.

Dan Herbeck is a veteran News reporter and the co-author of "American Terrorist."

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All That Is Bitter and Sweet

By Ashley Judd with Maryanne Vollers

Ballantine Books

406 pages, $26