When a glamorous woman comes to her small village, Lakshmi’s step-father sends her off to work in the city in exchange for enough money to repay their debts, buy a new outfit for her mother, and maybe even a tin roof that won’t leak. Lakshmi is sad to leave behind her mother, brother and baby goat, but pleased to be able to help her family. She hopes to return home to visit at festival time, but very soon learns that she’s been sold for a very different purpose than she imagined, and will never see her home again.
This story of child slavery and forced prostitution is powerful and clearly well researched. Lakshmi has a clear voice, and her narration is consistent (at least as far as I can tell) with her age, experiences and background. The cultural mores are reflected without comment –
a son will always be a son... But a girl is like a goat. Good as long as she gives you milk and butter. But not worth crying over when it’s time to make a stewand
even a man who gambles away what little we have… is better than no man at all– which just increases their impact on a Western reader. The various strategies for keeping child prostitutes from fleeing are described from the perspective of the enslaved children, and the bleakness and depression of the situation are intelligently portrayed in a fist person narrative.
Yet for some reason I didn’t really connect with Sold, and though I’ve spent some time thinking about it I can’t work out why that is. Part of the reason probably lies in the close reading proximity of this to Identical, which deals with related, powerful themes in a way I connected strongly too. Perhaps, too, though abhorrent and though I contribute money to organizations fighting this practice, there were no surprising revelations that struck me when reading Sold.
The novel concludes with factual information about human trafficking and child prostitution in the developing world, with a note specifically about Australia (where some three hundred women a year are trafficked too, and an estimated 1,000 are currently sex slaves) and some information about Nepal. I can see Sold being used as a set text in schools, and as an aid for workers in the field. But, despite its strong and important message, it just didn’t resonate with me. - Alex