Book review - A Walk Across the Sun

Human slavery today takes many forms but increasingly involves the trafficking of women and children across borders and even continents. The consequences are always devastating for the victims. A novel about the brutal world of child prostitution is probably not the easiest of books to market so Corban Addison, a human rights lawyer, has made a bold decision to explore this difficult subject through literary fiction.

Seventeen-year-old Ahalya and her younger sister Sita find their lives turned upside down by a tsunami that tears through their Indian village killing their entire family. Attempting to reach their convent school, many miles away, they are kidnapped by a taxi-driver who sells them to a sex trafficker. They are swiftly transported to Bombay’s seedy red light district and find themselves incarcerated in a brothel. Virgins, crudely referred to as ‘sealed packs’, attract the highest bidders and so Ahalya and Sita are considered lucrative acquisitions.

Running parallel to the girls’ story is that of an American lawyer, Thomas Clarke, who witnesses the kidnapping of a young girl in his home city of Washington. Struggling to come to terms with the death of his baby daughter and subsequent collapse of his marriage, he decides to follow his wife Priya to her native India. Haunted by the memory of the kidnapping he takes a year’s sabbatical from his job with a high-powered law firm and accepts a position with the Bombay branch of the Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE).

While working with CASE, Thomas witnesses a raid on the brothel where Ahalya and Sita are held. Just before the police move in, Sita is sold on to another trafficker who intends to use her as a drugs mule. After meeting Ahalya, Thomas promises to try and track down her sister. It’s a journey that takes him to Paris and back to America.

Threaded through the main plot are Thomas’s various attempts to reconcile with his wife – a touching love story that gives emotional depth to Thomas’s character and softens the impact of the girls’ heartbreaking trauma.

A Walk Across the Sun is immensely readable and a powerful indictment of the global trade in human beings. Addison highlights the fact that men who pay to have sex with minors or trafficked women are as much abusers as the criminal gangs. As an FBI agent remarks towards the end of the novel: “Trafficking will stop when men stop buying women.”

For his research Addison spent time with the International Justice mission in India and went undercover in the brothels of Bombay. By setting a major part of the novel in the US, Addison does not shy away from the grim reality that American citizens make up a sizable proportion of those who help to sustain the global sex trade.