“Trying to remember, I have learned, is like trying to clutch a handful of fog. Trying to forget, like trying to hold back the monsoon.”
Author: Patricia McCormick
Publication: September 15th 2006 by Disney-Hyperion
Summary from Goodreads:
Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Though she is desperately poor, her life is full of simple pleasures, like playing hopscotch with her best friend from school, and having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family.
He introduces her to a glamorous stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid in the city. Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution.
An old woman named Mumtaz rules the brothel with cruelty and cunning. She tells Lakshmi that she is trapped there until she can pay off her family’s debt—then cheats Lakshmi of her meager earnings so that she can never leave.
Lakshmi’s life becomes a nightmare from which she cannot escape. Still, she lives by her mother’s words— Simply to endure is to triumph—and gradually, she forms friendships with the other girls that enable her to survive in this terrifying new world. Then the day comes when she must make a decision—will she risk everything for a chance to reclaim her life?
Written in spare and evocative vignettes, this powerful novel renders a world that is as unimaginable as it is real, and a girl who not only survives but triumphs.
Lakshmi’s story is a betrayal of innocence and a violation of our most basic human rights, and it is a story that is all too common for girls like Lakshmi. Lakshmi is thirteen and trying her best to do her work and help Alma while her stepfather gambles away every penny the women make. When his gambling debt becomes too much for him to bear alone, he sells Lakshmi to a woman whom she calls ‘Auntie’ for less than four-hundred dollars.
“A son will always be a son, they say. 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.”
Lakshmi is lead to believe she is going to the city to be a maid for a wealthy family, a maid who will eat mangoes every day. She believes she is going to the city for an honorable job, a job with which she can support her family and even buy them a tin roof. She is tricked by ‘Uncle Husband’ into lying at the border crossing and then she is on her own. Uncle Husband doesn’t stay with her for long, and suddenly Lakshmi is being sold once again – this time to a brothel called “Happiness House”. Lakshmi doesn’t know what is going on, and by the time she realizes Mumtaz, the owner, beats her and starves her until deciding it’s not worth the trouble and has Lakshmi drugged and raped instead. It is heartbreaking. Yet, this heartbreaking tale is a reality for women and girls around the globe.
Sold details Lakshmi’s struggle to survive. Sold is unbelievably powerful with its sparse narrative and unapologetic voice. The novel is as harsh as its subject matter, and it was not an easy thing to read – not in the slightest. There is rape, violence, slavery, and victimization. There is starvation, poverty, and suicide. It was brutal, as it should be. However, there is hope in the small moments. Hope in the gift of a pencil, of a boy who shares a story book, and of strange pink skinned men with business cards. The hope and naive nature of Lakshmi balances out the horrors within the narrative, for the most part. The hope remains, even when Lakshmi doesn’t see it. These girls endure, feeding off the smallest inklings of happiness and hope – a movie, a cup of tea, a friend. As Alma says, to endure is to triumph.
“Simply to endure is to triumph.”