Two recent novels, both in the form of thrillers, address the heinous problem of child exploitation around the world. Fortunately, neither of them describes incidents of child abuse in a graphic or prurient manner.
A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison begins in India. Sisters Ahalya, 17, and Sita, 15, are the daughters in an upper middle class family in Tamil Nadu. When a tsunami hits their village, the girls survive, but they lose their home, their parents, and all the other people they know. The sisters know that if they can get to the convent school in another town, they will be safe. But how can they get there, with no money and no one to help them? As you can imagine, they do not make it to the school.
At the same time, American lawyer Thomas Clarke, who is married to an Indian woman named Priya, is having his own troubles. Priya has left him and gone back to India. Also, his legal firm, to assuage a client that blames Clarke for its legal loss, is sending him away for a while. One of his options is to spend a year in India working for the fictional Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE), which does work on trafficking and sexual violence issues in the developing world. He decides that’s a good idea, because (1) he has just witnessed a child abduction and is motivated to do something about it and (2) he thinks that while he’s in India he can woo his wife back.
He is assigned to Bombay. “Of the many cities known for the trade in human flesh, Bombay was among the worst,” he is told. Of course, Bombay is also where the girls have been taken and sold into prostitution. Imprisoned in a brothel, Ahalya knows she must be strong for her little sister. “To survive in such a world, she would have to sever her heart from her body. She had no other option. … She couldn’t allow herself to surrender to despair.”
One of the girls is sold again — and again, and again, to people who keep her enslaved for various illegal purposes, including drug trafficking and just plain hard work.
Meanwhile, Clarke is learning that the legal system in India is “a circus.” The corruption is so bad, one CASE worker explains, that “even when the evidence is airtight, the perpetrator absconds or the victim refuses to testify or the lawyer pulls some stunt with the judge and delays the case so long that the file starts to grow mold.”
As Clarke tracks the girls, he discovers how empty his life was as a corporate lawyer. Regarding child exploitation, he says, “The war can be won. But not by putting traffickers in jail. Trafficking will stop when men stop buying women. Until that happens, the best we can do is win one battle at a time.”
The subject of modern slavery is obviously disturbing, but the novelization serves as a good vehicle for informing the reader about the fact that slavery is still active today, even in America.
The Innocent by Taylor Stevens is the second Vanessa Michael Munroe novel, following her debut in The Informationist. Logan is one of eight siblings with cult-member parents. Vanessa, known as Michael, is his best friend. The two grew up together in The Chosen of God, a cult where they were part of a commune of “economy-class vagabonds” who spent their childhood “hopscotching the globe” and serving The Prophet.
Logan seeks Michael’s help in finding Hannah, age 13, the daughter of the woman he once loved. The girl had escaped from the cult with her mother but was subsequently abducted and taken back “in” without the mother’s approval. To assist them, Michael contacts a friend who owns a “bullets-and-blood mercenary outfit.” Then, they and a few other former cult members go after the girl.
Michael is a troubled and very interesting character. She speaks at least 22 languages. Using disguises, she has “an ability that made it possible for her to blend and become anything to anyone.” She also has anger issues, “an unquenchable burning rage against the violation of innocence.” She works to help “the innocent ones” and says she only kills in defense of herself or the children, and she’s haunted by the memories of the people she’s killed. But she’s pretty vicious when provoked.
The chase takes us to South America, where the child has been seen in Buenos Aires. Michael’s group has to track, trace, snoop, sneak, spy and deceive. She disguises herself as a woman, then a man, to infiltrate the cult.
But the members of the religious commune aren’t the only ones they have to worry about. The cult is getting monetary donations from the worst gangsters in the city. And the gangsters are getting something for their money — young girls. Can Michael save Hannah before the gangsters claim her as theirs?
I find cults fascinating, and the descriptions of this one, and of the mindset of the people involved, are believable. The author herself was brought up in communes of the Children of God, where she was denied an education beyond the sixth grade. She broke free from it, so she knows whereof she speaks.
As they are described, the fictional group The Chosen “don’t feel society’s laws apply to them.” They view children as owned property. “The group and the people within it [are] a hodgepodge of races and cultures homogenized into the culture of The Prophet” with communes, or Havens, around the globe. They view the rest of society as “the Void,” the world of the devil.
“The Chosen abused us, the media used us, law enforcement failed us, and justice is a farce,” explains Logan. And another former cult member goes further: “There was sexual abuse. Lots of it. But that was just one of so many dishes served on the smorgasbord of my childhood. Just one. Nobody reports about the extreme discipline, or being separated from our families, or education deprivation, or the lack of medical care, or the unquestioning obedience, or that we’re thrust out into the world to fend for ourselves after being kept from the world our entire lives.”
Some of the book is typical thriller. Most of it will make you think.
Adult situations and language.
Copyright © 2012 by Mary Louise Ruehr.