When a tsunami rages through their coastal town in India, 17-year-old Ahalya Ghai and her 15-year-old sister Sita are left orphaned and homeless. With almost everyone they know suddenly erased from the face of the earth, the girls set out for the convent where they attend school. They are abducted almost immediately and sold to a Mumbai brothel owner, beginning a hellish descent into the bowels of the sex trade.
Halfway across the world, Washington, D.C., attorney Thomas Clarke faces his own personal and professional crisis-and makes the fateful decision to pursue a pro bono sabbatical working in India for an NGO that prosecutes the subcontinent’s human traffickers. There, his conscience awakens as he sees firsthand the horrors of the trade in human flesh, and the corrupt judicial system that fosters it. Learning of the fate of Ahalya and Sita, Clarke makes it his personal mission to rescue them, setting the stage for a riveting showdown with an international network of ruthless criminals.
Note: This story would have not happened if the sisters would have exercised caution when dealing with strangers.
The tsunami was pretty much to be expected after a large earthquake and it was good that they went for higher ground in an attempt to survive. The aftermath scenes were heartbreaking and the older sister did well that she tried to call the nuns from the school they attended.
It all went downhill when they accepted the aid of someone they barely knew and they got sold to a brothel.
The story jumps between DC and Chennai and then Mumbai, India – showing on one side the cool American process of handling major sex trafficking cases and on the other side, the terrible life of the victims.
I have a small confession. I jumped over the DC side of the story. An old man’s musing over a past love and the way his eyes were opened to the horrors of the world around him were just not my cup of tea. SKIP!
The two sister’s stories were really engaging and well written and it is very similar to many others – victims of exploitation, sexual oppression and slavery.
Despite the main theme of the novel (sex trade), there is absolutely no explicit graphic description; what we witness as readers are the next day shame, the sorrow and the feeling of injustice. The girl’s emotions range from deep despair and fear to hope in the last few chapters. The love they carry for one another is deep and it’s what really kept me going through the book.
“You are not here because I enjoy the sale of sex. You are here because men enjoy the purchase of it.”
It was interesting to see how the price for the young sister varied based on her purpose. She was cheap as a drug mule, even cheaper as a house servant but more expensive as a virgin gift for rich men. I absolutely hated how the brothel owner’s son would be “trying out the goods” and was horrified to find out he did it before the two sisters were housed and they threw out the girl when she got STDs or got pregnant.
The Bad Bits:
The book is a good read for half the length. Thomas’ POV could have been totally left out and it would not made a difference. His plot line was pretty boring. Here’s the gist of it:
Thomas Clarke works for a huge and prestigious law firm in D.C. and has been spending the last several months working on a case representing a coal mine. The mine is accused of being responsible for an accident that kills many children and adults. Because of an error, his firm loses the case and he is the fall-guy. His father, who is a judge, is good friends with the firm’s head so he is not fired. He is offered the ‘opportunity’ of a sabbatical. Recently, his wife has left him and he sees the opportunity for a sabbatical as a good move towards his goal of a seat on the bench. He takes an internship with a non-profit organization called C.A.S.E. – Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation. They have an opening in their Bombay office and he flies there to work. At first, his heart is not in it though he is committed to spend his year there.
He sounds very much like an entitled American who should have been a secondary character at best and not the main event. It wasn’t his story, but the author turned what could have been an appealing call to action in support of anti-human trafficking into a second-rate essay on one man’s desire to be a hero.
Periodically within the story, other women or girls would appear and I would find myself unrealistically waiting for one of them to whisper an escape plan to Sita or Ahalya, offer assistance to get out, provide a cover… they never did … and honestly if they did, it probably would have made this story much less believable.
But what I did realistically expect was that these girls/women would offer comfort, at the very least… Just the brothel “mother” did – a heartbreaking, but wise, and cultural sort of comfort, the kind that gave little hope, yet courage. Sumeera attempted to comfort Ahalya by saying “I once was like you. I was taken from my home and brought here by strange men. Life in the adda is hard, but you must accept it. There is no use fighting your karma. Accept the discipline of God and perhaps you will be reborn in a better place.” She also says at another point “what you have experienced is difficult. The shame is natural. All feel it the first time. But you will survive. You will learn to accept it.” Ahalya, herself, comes to the conclusion that “To survive in such a world, she would to sever her heart from her body.”
The girls are at most detached from their situation and take everything that is happening to them as fate. I would have loved to see the girls escape or try to escape earlier on but it might be a cultural thing. Don’t know..
The good bits:
“The mark of wisdom is to see the reality behind each appearance.”
The writing is pretty decent and the girls’ story is pretty well written and action-packed towards the end. The conclusion was satisfying as justice was served (after a while and after making the wheels of a very corrupt Indian Justice system move). Those were the author’s believes – not mine.
“Ahalya quickly learned to appreciate the schedule. Healing, she found, required motion, intention, purpose—the reassurance that life was still worth living.”
I liked how the girls endured – for their own sakes and for the other sisters. They found a way of living and were kinda getting on. The only reason they escaped their situation was because they were minors. (17 and 15 respectively). I can’t help but wonder if they would have been taken out of the brothel they were sold into had they been of legal age of consent (18).