Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sold by Patricia McCormick


Thirteen-year-old Lakshmi lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Though they are desperately poor, Lakshmi’s life is full of simple pleasures: playing hopscotch with her best friend, looking after her black-and-white speckled goat, having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp. But when Lakshmi’s family lose all that remains of their crops in a monsoon, her stepfather says she must leave home and take a job in the city. Lakshmi undertakes the long journey to India full of hope for her new life, proud to be able to earn, daring to hope that she will make enough money to make her mother proud too. Then she learns the unthinkable truth: for 10,000 rupees she has been sold into prostitution.

Sold is a story about human survival, injustices done to women who are still treated as cattle, and about the continuous struggle of people in abject poverty whowill do anything to survive

I realised from the word “go” that this book is going to be wildly different to anything I had ever read before. The chapters are short, written in Lakshmi’s strong singular voice. We meet her as a young girl living in a mountain village in Nepal. Her life is hard but hers is a voice of optimism, a naivety which is charming rather than annoying. Her father sells her to go and work for a rich family, to wash and clean for them. This seems to be the euphemism for being sold into the sex trade.

Lakshmi has no idea, until it is too late, what it is that’s been done with her future, her life. And it is heartbreaking to see her go through the struggle of trying to cope with it all and how she still tries her best to survive, to be her, and not to lose her sense of being.

I know I always carry on about the style of writing and the character’s voice, but these are tremendously important to me as a reader. I am sure it resonates the same way with other readers. I copy, with permission of both author and Walker Books the following short excerpt to illustrate the strong voice and imagery used in telling Lakshmi’s story:


Inside the bundle Ama packed for me are:
My bowl,
My hairbrush,
The notebook my teacher gave me for being the number one girl in school,
And my bedroll.

Inside my head I carry:
My baby goat,
My baby brother,
My ama’s face,
Our family’s future.

My bundle is light.
My burden is heavy.

I would urge everyone, especially if you are female, to buy a copy of Sold. Although it is supposed to be a young adult novel, it speaks to people of both sexes and all ages in a vibrant and honest voice that is hard to deny.

The story is amazing – it is beautifully told, the horror of Lakshmi’s life is illustrated in such a restrained way which says a lot about the author’s skill. She could have gone for violent descriptive passages but she doesn’t. She reigns it in, keeping to these spare strong chapters that leave you reeling with the power of the story and the sheer inner strength of the main character and those surrounding her.

It is not an easy read, I have to be honest, but it's style and the grace of the main character really carries the story beyond the mundane.

The novel is endorsed by Amnesty International UK as contributing to a better understanding of human rights and the values that underpin them.

More about the author here and more about Walker Books here.

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