Friday, January 6, 2012

"A Walk Across the Sun"

Corban Addison holds degrees in law and engineering from the University of Virginia and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. In researching A Walk Across the Sun, his first novel, Addison traveled to India and spent a month with a team of investigators, attorneys and social workers from the International Justice Mission. During his visit, he went undercover into the brothels of Mumbai and met trafficking victims face to face. In addition, he spent time with activists in Paris and with a senior official from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Addison applied the Page 69 Test to A Walk Across the Sun and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Walk Across the Sun lies at the core of one of the most dramatic sequences in the novel and stands as a defining moment in the lives of Ahalya and Sita Ghai, the Indian sisters whose story of loss, peril, exploitation, and rescue carries the lion’s share of the narrative.

Set behind the closed doors of a brothel in Kamathipura, Mumbai’s infamous red light district, page 69 describes the sale of a virgin girl to a wealthy customer for sex. The transaction is a study in contrasts: the cold negotiation of Suchir, the brothel owner, and Shankar, the customer, over terms; and the terror of seventeen-year-old Ahalya whose innocence is on the auction block.

The scene opens in the attic room where Ahalya and Sita are imprisoned. Sumeera, the madam, issues them a summons:
“Wake up, children,” she said nervously. “It’s time to dress.”
She gives the girls luxurious clothing and jewelry to wear, for the transaction, to be profitable, requires the illusion that the girls are free and desire the customer’s affection. The sisters dress and follow Suchir downstairs. In the hallway of sex rooms, older prostitutes whisper about the premium the girls’ virginity will bring:
“Fifty thousand,” a tall girl guessed. “More,” said her neighbor.
At the brothel owner’s command, Sita stays in the hallway while Ahalya follows Suchir into the lobby where Shankar is waiting.
He was forty-something, with a head of black curls and a gold watch on his wrist. He eyed Ahalya appraisingly while Suchir pulled the window shades. Suchir flipped a switch, and a bank of recessed bulbs installed above the mirror flooded the room with light. In a gentle voice, he directed Ahalya to stand beneath the glare and to look at the man. Ahalya obeyed for a brief moment, and then her eyes fell to the floor.
For an instant Ahalya’s humanity halts the inexorable march of the transaction. Then the brokering begins, the haggling, the inspection, and finally the bargain. For sixty thousand rupees (roughly $1,200), Shankar purchases Ahalya’s innocence. Back in the attic room, he greets her with the unforgettable words:
“Tonight is your wedding night.”
More than perhaps any other page in the novel, page 69 reveals the horror of human trafficking, the fastest growing criminal enterprise on Earth. And while A Walk Across the Sun has many additional dimensions—the unbreakable bond between the sisters, the transcontinental search undertaken by Thomas Clarke, an American lawyer, for Sita after she is separated from Ahalya, the story of Thomas’s love for his wife, Priya, nearly undone by tragedy, yet ultimately redeemed, and the future of promise that all of them discover in the end—the tale of the novel is the tale of the trade in human beings.

At its heart, A Walk Across the Sun presents a truth and a question: Children like Ahalya and Sita are not fiction. They are real. What are we going to do about it?
Learn more about the book and author at Corban Addison's website.

--Marshal Zeringue