Tuesday, January 3, 2012
SilverOak/Sterling, January 2012
"You do the thing that's in front of you."
First, a very hearty thanks to the publishers, who sent me an ARC of this novel. They asked me to hold off with my review until the book's release date, and wanting to comply with their wishes, I've been waiting a while to share. My only prior familiarity with the illicit sex trade in India is the movie Born Into Brothels (2004) , and I have to admit that that movie was part of the reason I wanted to read this book. But while much of the action takes place in India, A Walk Across the Sun also goes beyond that country, as Corban Addison moves the action across several nations, involving young girls from different parts of the world. One of Addison's goals with this novel is to get the message across that the illicit sex trade is a worldwide phenomenon, limited not only to countries like India, but happening right under our very noses. As he notes in an interview, the UN estimates that the illicit sex trade brings in a profit of thirty-two billion dollars a year, just behind the profits of the illegal drug and gun trades. He also notes that his objectives in writing this book are to inspire his readers to : 1) learn more about the topic, 2) to discover and support organizations that do "heroic work in this field," and 3) to "put pressure on people in positions of power" who have the ability to do actively do something about helping these girls. Granted, illicit sex trafficking in young children is not a pretty topic, and this book may not be for everyone, but it is a real and expanding international concern, one that needs to be addressed openly. And Addison has made a good start with A Walk Across the Sun, his first novel.
The basic story begins with two girls, Ahalya Ghai (17) and her sister Sita (15), whose lives are overturned in the veritable blink of an eye. The girls come from a very well-off family on the coast of India, and the story opens as they are making plans to attend a violin concert and go backstage to meet the artist. But an earthquake triggers a tsunami off the coast of India and catches the girls and their family off guard, killing all but the two sisters. As they try to seek the haven of their school, an offer of a ride turns into a one-way ticket to Mumbai, where the girls are sold into a brothel. As if things aren't bad enough, Sita is eventually sold off and taken away from India and from her sister. In the meantime, Thomas Clarke, an up-and-coming attorney in Washington DC, has suffered a number of setbacks in his personal life and career. While traveling to visit his parents, he witnesses a child abduction and it turns his entire life around, ultimately sending him to Mumbai to work with a local NGO that helps with prosecutions of those who deal in sex trafficking there. Ultimately Tom will be caught up in the search for Sita, and in the process he will be forced to enter the ugliness of the "shadow world" of the illicit sex trade.
Addison's intentions with writing this novel are good ones and he is very passionate about his subject. As the story progresses, it gets harder to put the book down as the reader waits to see what is going to happen next. In writing the character of Tom, he portrays a man who is in personal crisis mode; one whose work with the NGO offers meaning and purpose and allows him to finally find himself. The underlying horrors of illicit sex trafficking are laid bare, but the author never gets into any gross detail that would undercut the seriousness of what he's trying to do here.
It's very clear that Addison has done a great deal of research in preparation for the novel, but there are a few issues I found problematic. First, although Tom's ongoing issues with his estranged wife Priya are offered as a counterpoint to the sisters' experiences, these scenes detracted from my interest in the main storyline. I realize that this is a personal issue (I'm not a love story kind of girl), and that others may find these scenes as relief from the horrors of the sex trafficking, but I thought that if Addison's goal is to get people interested in this terrible reality, Tom and Priya's relationship was a bit of extraneous fluff that didn't really need to be there. Second -- is it me or did things happen a little too quickly -- and how is it that a young girl can be traced around the world but a local kidnapping victim couldn't be found? I think you might want to be prepared to suspend your disbelief in some cases.
A Walk Across the Sun is lighter in terms of writing than my normal fare, but considering this is the author's first novel, it's a good read, very approachable and Addison's passion for his subject shines through. While the subject matter may be difficult, and may not appeal to everyone, there is a reality out there that needs to be brought out into the open and made visible. Bringing the human trafficking issue to the forefront in a less than in-your-face kind of way is where Addison is at his best. I'll recommend this one to anyone who is interested in the topic.