Sunday, November 15

Sold – Patricia McCormick

Lakshmi’s Nepalese family is struggling to survive, thanks in no small part to her step-father – unable to work because of an arm that was fractured and not set in childhood, he instead spends all day gambling. Lakshmi is the star pupil at her small school, and helps her mother with growing the meagre crops they need to survive. She hopes her baby brother will live long enough to have a name, unlike the sons who died. She is promised in marriage to a boy her own age, and though they don’t talk she from time to time glances shyly at him and thinks he looks at her, too.
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 stew
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

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