In A Walk Across the Sun, Corban Addison crafts a harrowing tale of natural disaster, sex trafficking, and redemption. Set just after the 2004 tsunami that claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million people, the story centers around the experiences of sisters Ahalya and Sita. In the wake of the disaster, the sisters are trafficked for sex. Their journeys take them from Chennai in southern India to Atlanta in the southern United States. Along the way, Ahalya meets a lawyer named Thomas who takes up her cause and works to locate Sita.
If you know the story of the Ramayana, then you know the story of Sita, and the book’s narrative arc and eventual outcome will not surprise you. Written as a legal thriller a la John Grisham, the book serves to highlight the challenges and triumphs of the war against human trafficking.
Addison is a natural storyteller, and the book is a compelling, quick read. The story’s structure left me wanting more at the end of each chapter and propelled the story forward. Addison’s descriptions of Mumbai and its inhabitants are spot on. He possesses a keen understanding of Indian relationships.
Readers catch a glimpse into a world that few people ever see up close. Addison paints a vivid portrait of the trafficking underworld, but does not force the reader to make judgments. Instead, he leads us to draw our own conclusions. With such a hot-button issue as the topic, the book could have become preachy. Yet, Addison manages to make his point through his characters rather than through long soliloquies about the evils of trafficking.
Mumbaikers will notice the devilish details that Addison seems to get wrong. For example, while Thomas stays in Bandra and his office is located in Pali Hill, Addison sends Thomas to lunch with his workmate at Leopold Cafe in Colaba. No one would make that unnecessary trek given the traffic nightmare that plagues this city. They’d lunch in the upscale Pali Hill. The trip seems to be a plot device designed to get Thomas to experience the thrill of a Mumbai local and to travel through Kamathipura, the city’s infamous red-light district.
Addison also seems to white-wash the brutality of the girls’ experiences. The rape scenes actually don’t seem brutal enough. Instead, I felt like I was in a movie where the worst violence takes place off-screen, safely away from the viewer’s perspective.
Finally, the plot is fairly predictable: the rich, caucasian American lawyer rescues the poor, abused Indian girl from a fate worse than death, and everyone lives happily ever after. As hard as it is to say, I think I would have preferred a more realistic outcome where a main character dies. I think Thomas’s father-in-law had it right when he says,
“yet another Westerner who thinks he can fix all that is broken in India”
Flawed, yet compelling read offers a glimpse into the trafficking underworld.