A Walk Across the Sun

A Walk Across the Sun

4.4 252
by Corban Addison

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Corban Addison's debut novel, A Walk Across the Sun, made waves when it was first published, called "pulse-revving with a serious message," by O, the Oprah magazine. John Grisham said, "Addison has written a novel that is beautiful in its story and also important in its message. A Walk Across The Sun deserves a wide audience." A trained

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Corban Addison's debut novel, A Walk Across the Sun, made waves when it was first published, called "pulse-revving with a serious message," by O, the Oprah magazine. John Grisham said, "Addison has written a novel that is beautiful in its story and also important in its message. A Walk Across The Sun deserves a wide audience." A trained lawyer committed to the cause of advancing international human rights and abolishing modern slavery, Addison has written a novel that enlightens while it entertains; A Walk Across the Sun brings together three of Addison's great passions—storytelling, human rights, and the world's many cultures.

Ahalya Ghai and her younger sister Sita are as close as sisters can be. But when a tsunami rips through their coastal village, their home is swept away, and the sisters are the sole survivors of their family. Destitute, their only hope is to find refuge at a convent many miles away. A driver agrees to take them. But the moment they get into that car their fate is sealed. The two sisters—confused, alone, totally reliant on each other—are sold.

On the other side of the world, Washington lawyer Thomas Clarke is struggling to cope after the death of his baby daughter and the collapse of his marriage. He takes a sabbatical from his high-pressure job and accepts a position with the Bombay branch of an international anti-trafficking group. Thomas is now on a desperate path to try and save not only himself and his marriage, but also the lives of the two sisters.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A novel that is beautiful in its story and important in its message. A Walk Across the Sun deserves a wide audience."—John Grisham"

An accomplished, compelling thriller, drawing people towards a difficult, heartrending subject."—Bookbag"

Addison's debut is an unforgettable read."—Star

Publishers Weekly
In his debut novel, lawyer Addison uncovers the labyrinthine underside of human trafficking in this dazzling transcontinental story about the power of conviction, the bonds of family, and the tenacity of love. After a tsunami in India tragically orphans 17-year old Ahalya Ghai and her 15-year-old sister, Sita, the girls are kidnapped and taken to a Mumbai brothel where their nightmare begins. Meanwhile, D.C.-based attorney Thomas Clarke faces marital and career crises. His wife, Priya, returns to her family in India when her grandmother dies, Thomas’s demanding legal career and the SIDS death of their infant daughter having taken their toll. Assuming the blame for a headline-grabbing legal debacle, Thomas accepts his firm’s offer to take a paid sabbatical and work on a pro bono case overseas. He ends up in Mumbai working for CASE (Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation). When CASE comes to rescue Ahalya, the sisters are separated, and Sita must go to Paris (and later, America) as a drug mule, as her owners try to elude their pursuers. In addition to Ahalya and Sita’s timely story, Addison’s portrait of Thomas and Priya’s tenuous relationship skillfully reveals the difficulty of inter-cultural marriage. The novel successfully explicates the magnitude of the human trafficking business, the complexities of international legalities, and the impact of the Internet’s role in this horrifying underworld. (Jan.)
Library Journal
This chilling, suspenseful, and powerful debut weaves fictional characters into the reality of contemporary slavery. The novel opens on the serene shores of Tamil Nadu, India, as a tsunami rips apart the coastal towns. Two survivors, orphaned sisters who have lost nearly everything, are thrown into the havoc and are immediately sold into the sex trade. The teenage girls are passed from one criminal to the next, experiencing horrors that span the globe. Meanwhile, an American lawyer caught up in a midlife crisis takes a sabbatical to India and helps prosecute human traffickers. His work becomes entwined with the plight of the two sisters, and he sets out to rescue them from the international trade. VERDICT The story is compelling, but the message is greater and will leave an impact on everyone who picks up the book. Readers will mourn the injustices depicted and celebrate the triumphs long after the last page is turned.—Andrea Brooks, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights

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5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)

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Mumbai, India After a few days in Suchir’s brothel, Ahalya and Sita began to lose touch with time. Each day took on the rhythm of India’s year, its two seasons defined by the presence and absence of the sun. Day was benign and filled with all things domestic—the chatter of the girls occupying the floor below, the diverse sounds of commerce drifting up from the street. Night, by contrast, was malignant, a soundscape of pounding feet, drunken shouts, squeals of seduction and protestation, and incessant moaning.
The girls had few visitors during those first days. Sumeera came to check on them and brought their meals. Ahalya tried to hate her, but the animosity was difficult to sustain. Sumeera spoke softly, without any hint of command, and treated them like daughters.
One morning she brought a doctor along to examine them. At first Ahalya resisted the gynecologist’s probing, but Sumeera said the examination was routine. All young women in Bombay had it. Ahalya thought of Suchir and agreed so as not to invite his wrath. Sita, seeing her sister capitulate, was quick to follow, though the examination caused her obvious shame and pain.
After the girls had been poked and prodded, Sumeera spoke in low tones to the doctor.
“You are both healthy,” she said, clasping her hands together. “We want you to stay that way. You will see the doctor once a month. Treat him well.”
When Sumeera was not present, the sisters searched the attic room for a means of escape. The room was a rough square, fourteen feet by thirteen. It had no window, only two small exhaust vents. The only door locked from the outside. Beyond it lay a stairwell with no exit except through the concealed door behind the bookcase. Ahalya had no doubt that the secret door could only be activated from the other side.
After many fruitless attempts, she sat on the floor beside Sita and stroked her hair.
“There has to be a way out,” she said.
“But where would we go?” Sita whispered. “We are strangers in Bombay.”
Ahalya had no answer. Each night, she lay awake, listening to the sounds drifting up from below. Her imagination turned her into an insomniac. She thought of the girls and the men who visited them. She was a virgin, but she was not naive. She understood the mechanics of sex. She knew what women had that men wanted. What she couldn’t comprehend was why a man would pay a prostitute, or beshya, for sex.
As the days dragged by, Ahalya began to wonder if Suchir would ever come for them. It was Friday, three days after their arrival, and no man had been brought to their room. Ahalya’s only explanation was that the brothel owner was planning something for them. The thought of it terrified her. Sometimes when she heard Suchir’s voice through the floorboards, a wave of vertigo came upon her. Her only remedy was to lie flat on her back. Sita worried over her, but Ahalya blamed the heat. Inside, however, her heart was consumed with fear.
The hour came when Ahalya least expected it. It was in the middle of the night on New Year’s Eve, and she had been drifting in and out of sleep. The sounds of festivity were everywhere on the street, and the moans coming from downstairs struggled to keep pace. The doorknob turned without a sound, but the hinges creaked and startled her awake. The light came on suddenly and Sumeera stood at the foot of the bed holding a burlap sack.
“Wake up, children,” she said nervously. “It’s time to dress.”
Ahalya’s heart began to pound, but she knew better than to ask questions. She could still feel the sting of the young man’s hand on her cheek the morning they arrived. Sumeera held out a beautiful crimson and gold churidaar and directed Ahalya to put it on. She gave Sita a sari the color of peacock feathers. Bangles came next and then anklets. Sumeera brushed the girls’ hair and adorned it with garlands. Then she applied a light coat of foundation and thin black eyeliner. Standing back, she appraised them. After a moment, Suchir appeared in the doorway and grunted his approval.
“Come,” he said. “Shankar is waiting.”
The sisters descended the steps behind Sumeera and Suchir and entered the hallway. There were perhaps twenty girls in the narrow space. Some were leaning against walls; others were sitting on the floor in open door frames. A few snickered when they appeared, but the rest were watchful. To Ahalya’s surprise, most of the beshyas were plain-looking. Only two or three could pass for pretty, and only one girl was truly beautiful.
Ahalya caught a few whispers as she walked past.
“Fifty thousand,” a tall girl guessed.
“More,” said her neighbor.
Suchir silenced them with a glare. He directed Sita to wait at the door and then ushered Sumeera and Ahalya into the brothel lobby. A man sat on one of the couches facing the mirror. He was forty-something, with a head of black curls and a gold watch on his wrist. He eyed Ahalya appraisingly while Suchir pulled the window shades. Sumeera, meanwhile, took her seat on the other couch and bowed her head.
Suchir flipped a switch, and a bank of recessed bulbs installed above the mirror flooded the room with light. In a gentle voice, he directed Ahalya to stand beneath the glare and to look at the man. Ahalya obeyed for a brief moment, and then her eyes fell to the floor.
“Shankar, my friend,” said the brothel owner, “I have something delectable for you tonight. Two girls—both sealed pack. This is the older one.”
Shankar murmured his delight. He stood up and walked toward Ahalya. He admired her skin, touched her hair, and grazed her left breast with the back of his hand.
“Ravas,” he said with a sigh. “Magnificent. I do not need to see more. Save the other girl for another day. How much for this one? With no condom.”
“Condoms are required,” Suchir replied. “You know the rule.”
Shankar shrugged. “Rules are worthless. How much do you want?”
Suchir seemed to hesitate, but then quickly conceded. “For a girl like this, sixty thousand, and only this time.”
“Suchir, you drive a hard bargain,” Shankar said. “I came only with fifty thousand in bills.”
“You can visit the ATM,” Suchir rejoined. “The girl is worth every rupee.”
Shankar stepped back. “Sixty thousand. I will pay you the rest afterward.” He handed a wad of thousand-rupee notes to Suchir.
Suchir looked at Sumeera. “Take them upstairs,” he said. “And keep the other girl in the stairwell. It will be a good lesson for her.”

While the men negotiated, Ahalya stood in a state of near paralysis. In the harsh embrace of the stage lights, she felt transported. Her heart hammered in her chest, and she felt a prickly sensation begin at the base of her neck and wind its way downward. She didn’t think of Shankar as a man. She imagined him as a ghost, a spirit from the underworld. A ghoul could not deflower her. Yet she knew the trick of her mind was foolish. He was a man like any other.
When she heard Suchir’s directive about Sita, she looked up, horrified but unable to speak. Fear had absconded with the remains of her defiance. She would allow Shankar to have her so that Sita would learn not to resist. For resistance, she now understood, meant pain, and pain accentuated the misery of this beggar’s existence. After tonight, she would be awara, a fallen one. The bridge into prostitution had only one direction.
“Bolo na, tum tayor ho?” Sumeera asked her. “Tell me now, are you ready?”
Ahalya nodded. She allowed Shankar to take her hand and lead her into the hallway. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Sita. As Shankar drew her up the stairs, she thought of her father. He had taught her that she was strong, that the sky was the limit of her talents, and that she could be anything she wanted to be. It was a beautiful idea, but ill-fated. She thought of her mother as Sumeera fluffed the pillows and lit a candle. Ambini had been gentle and dignified, a role model to emulate. They were dead now, both of them, their bodies strewn like driftwood upon the ruin of a beautiful beach. All that remained was jooth ki duniya, a world of lies.
Sumeera left her with Shankar and closed the door. Ahalya stared at a spot on the floor, trembling. She could not bring herself to look at the man who had bought her. He approached her and lifted her chin until she met his eyes. He smiled at her as he unbuttoned his pants.
“Tonight is your wedding night,” he said and pushed her back on the bed.

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