Sold: A Haunting Depiction of the Sex Trade in India

Sold by Patricia McCormickThe book SOLD by Patricia McCormick jumped out at me on the bookshelf, thanks to its bright yellow cover with a close up of a girl’s head, wrapped in a shawl. Her eyes looked haunted. There was a big silver medallion on the cover, because SOLD was a National Book Award finalist in 2006, when it was published.

I read the book in a few days. That’s rare for me. I may be a writer, but I’m a very slow reader. I didn’t want to close this book from the moment I opened it.

SOLD is the story of Lakshmi, a thirteen-year-old girl from Nepal. The book does a beautiful job of depicting Lakshmi’s life in the Himalayas, which is far from simple—her stepfather is a drunk and the weather is by turns desert-dry or flooding. Nevertheless, she is happy.

But the monsoons wash away the family’s crops, and Lakshmi’s stepfather says she’ll have to get a job as a maid in the city. That doesn’t sound so bad. Lakshmi’s best friend left to be a maid in the city, and sent money back to her family—enough money for the family to buy a strong tin roof. If Lakshmi can be in the same city as her friend, she’ll be happy, and if she can send money to her family, she’ll be proud.

The woman who takes Lakshmi to the city seems glamorous, but when Lakshmi is delivered to a brothel, she realizes the glamour was a lie. She has been sold into prostitution. The woman who runs the brothel, Mumtaz, says she has to work there until she pays off the 10,000 rupees it cost to buy her (currently, that’s not quite $162)—but with Mumtaz doctoring the ledgers and charging Lakshmi for room, board, and even the medicine that cures her fever, Lakshmi’s debts only seem to mount.

SOLD includes deeply troubling, gripping descriptions and scenes—although it steers clear of anything too graphic—as Lakshmi struggles against her new life, and then tries to cope in whatever way she can. The girls at the brothel are their own little community—with their own power plays, little triumphs and disgraces—and all of them live in fear of Mumtaz. Slowly, reluctantly, Lakshmi finds herself part of this community.

Although she lives in fear and pain, and although she develops a cynicism that’s heartbreaking in a thirteen-year-old, she also develops real courage. But she’s not sure if she’s brave enough to take the biggest risk of all, and try to regain her freedom.

I wouldn’t want to describe SOLD as an easy read, but it is a gripping one. Part of its beauty is in McCormick’s way with words. She is straightforward yet poetic. She does not take three pages to say what she can in one paragraph. Indeed, many chapters only consist of one paragraph—some of only one sentence.

This no-fuss, simple style comes across as engaging and honest, and it’s not difficult to believe it’s the voice of a thirteen-year-old girl. McCormick is an extremely talented writer.

In her Author’s Note, McCormick says she researched the book by tracing “the path that many Nepalese girls have taken—from remote villages to the red-light districts of Calcutta.” She interviewed survivors and aid workers. She got as close as she could to the heart of the sex trade in Nepal and India, and notes that nearly 12,000 Nepalese girls a year are trafficked into India for sex. “Worldwide, the U.S. State Department estimates that nearly half a million children are trafficked into the sex trade annually.”

She wrote the book in honor of survivors.

I can only thank her for her work, and for the opportunity to read this book. SOLD is currently being made into a feature film.


L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her upcoming book Working Girl, a memoir of her time working for a professional escort, go to sex trafficking non-profits. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @LMarrick.

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