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Book review: ‘Sold’ is unimaginably real

April 17, 2020 by Abigail Bostwick

Written in short and evocative paragraphs, this powerful novel, “Sold” by Patricia McCormick, paints a world that is both cringing and unimaginable as it is real. It is told in the first person, by a girl who not only survives the experience of being sold and bought into human slavery — but triumphs. “Sold” was a National Book Award Finalist.

The novel centers around Lakshmi, a 13-year-old girl who lives with her family in a sparse hut on a mountain in Nepal. It is a stunning landscape, though harsh and difficult to make a living in. Though the family is painstakingly and desperately poor, her life is one made of ordinary and simple pleasures that bring her joy. She enjoys playing hopscotch with her best friend from school and having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp each evening. The harsh Himalayan weather in mountains means more devastation for the family, however. When a series of monsoons washes away the family’s crops that they depend upon each year, Lakshmi’s stepfather says Lakshmi must leave home and take a job to help support her family. Lakshimi is eager to help.

Lakshimi is introduced to a new, different and glamorous stranger who tells her she can have a job in a nearby city, Calcutta, as a maid. Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope and ready to work. But soon, everything changes. Lakshmi is sold and forced into prostitution.

An old woman, Mumtaz, rules over the entire brothel and its unwilling girls with cruelty and harsh hands. She tells Lakshmi she has to work there until she can pay off her family’s debt. However, even then, Lakshmi is not allowed to leave or go home. Lakshmi fears she can never escape.

Lakshmi still clings to hope, that which was taught to her in her old life with her best friend and mother. She recalls the words her mother instilled in her: Simply to endure is to triumph. Lakshimi puts roots where she is planted and does the best she can — forming relationships and bonds and friendships with the other trapped girls in the brothel. Those ties are what make it bearable for the young woman to survive in the terrible environment. 

Finally, a day arrives when Lakshmi has the chance to change her entire future. Can she reclaim herself, her independence and all that she has lost? 

The poetry of this novel is beautifully strung together and creates a world of free verse that is both difficult and unimaginable to read, yet impossible to put down. 

“I have been beaten here, locked away, violated a hundred times and a hundred times more. I have been starved and cheated, tricked and disgraced. How odd it is that I am undone by the simple kindness of a small boy with a yellow pencil.”

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