Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Sold by Patricia McCormick

If I bring a half-dozen men to my room each night, and each man pays Mumtaz 30 rupees, I am 180 rupees closer each day to going back home. If I work for a hundred days more, I should have nearly enough to pay back the 20,000 rupees I owe to Mumtaz.

Then Shahanna teaches me city subtraction.

Half of what the men pay goes to Mumtaz, she says. Then you must take away 80 rupees for what Mumtaz charges for your daily rice and dal. Another 100 a week for renting you a bed and pillow. And 500 for the shot the dirty-hands doctor gives us once a month so that we won't become pregnant.

She also warns me: Mumtaz will bury you alive if she sees your little book of figures.

I do the calculations.

And realize I am already buried alive.

Lakshmi is 13 years old when her stepfather sells her to an "auntie" travelling to the big city. The auntie has promised Lakshmi's mother that the girl will go to work as a maid in the city.

In fact, the fictional Lakshmi--and up to 12,000 real Nepali girls each year--has been sold into a life of sexual slavery in an Indian brothel.

Gradually, Lakshmi forms friendships that help her survive--with the other girls in the "Happiness House", with the boy who sells tea from a street cart, and with the young son of another prostitute. Still, her life is mostly without hope, for Mumtaz cheats the girls outrageously and then abandons them on the street when they become too sick or broken to work. The girls fear Mumtaz. They fear the corrupt police, who take payments from Mumtaz to look the other way. And they fear the Americans who might take them from the brothel only to shame them and abandon them on the streets. How will they ever escape--and if they did, how could they ever return home?

Tha author's research for this novel visits to shelters in Kathmandu, the Himalayas, and Calcutta, where she interviewed women and girls rescued from the sex trade. The sexual situations are tactfully described; they are, nonetheless, appropriately horrible.

Recommended for readers ages 12 and up.

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