Saturday, January 18, 2014

Book review: Trafficked by Kim Purcell

Behind the facade of the white picket fence, lies a house filled with the ugliest of secrets and the dirtiest of lies.
 
Disclaimer: This review also appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

Trafficked by Kim Purcell (Speak)
When I first finished reading this book, I had no intention of giving it a very high rating.

In fact, my initial thought was that this book was maybe worth a fair-weathered 3 out of 5. Good, but not all that mesmerising.

Since I was so indecisive about it, I decided to step back from focusing on the technical aspects of rating, and just reflect on the contents of the book over the days that would follow (something I usually do with most books I read anyway).

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realise that, actually, this is the kind of book I really, really love.

Sure, it left me with more questions than answers, but don't some of the best books do that?

The good characters made my heart ache, the antagonists made me rage against the injustices they inflicted on others and the story itself was filled with so much heart, that when I think back on it now, I can't for the life of me remember why I wanted to dismiss this as an average book.

Actually, wait. Bear with me for a bit, because I think I do know why.

A lovely writer friend and I were having a discussion about how many of the commercial reads out there seem to be following and doing what most blockbuster movies are doing these days: going with a storyline, but focusing on the ‘bang, bang, pow!’ aspects of the story, instead of the heart and soul of the actual story itself.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, and goodness knows, I do enjoy my fair share of action-packed, plot-driven stories, I think that we often forget about just how wonderful stories that have more subtle nuances and focus more on subtext and what lies beneath the surface, are.

Because sometimes, it’s those what’s-not-being-said moments that speak the loudest, and to me, Trafficked is one such book.

I don’t deny that this book is for everyone. In fact, if you’re a fan of books where everything knits itself together and all loose ends are tied up, then you may just want to give this one a skip.

However, if you want to see a realistic portrayal of a topic that is a tragic reality, and one that will leave you thinking about it for days on end, then this is just the book for you.

Hannah is a beautiful 16-year old girl from Moldova (near to Ukraine and Romania).

Having lost her parents in a bomb blast, things haven’t been going well for her and her ailing babushka.

When she’s offered the chance to work as a nanny in Los Angeles, she grabs it with both hands, with the reasoning that she’d not only be able to learn English, but that she’d eventually earn enough money to send back home.

Upon arriving, it’s not long before Hannah discovers that the dream she’s been offered, is a far cry from the reality she finds herself in.

At first everything appears to be going well. Hannah’s placed with Sergey, Lillian, Maggie and Michael, a Russian family who live in a beautiful suburban area - one that is a carbon cut-out of the American dream ideal.

Expected to work and clean, Hannah’s only too happy to help, excited by the prospect of earning and raising enough money for her ailing grandmother’s operation.  It also helps that she gets along with the children almost right from the start.

But soon Hannah begins to notice some things.

Things such as: why she’s working 16 hours a day; things such as her never being allowed to leave the house, and things such as the fact that after the first few weeks of being there, she still hasn’t been paid.

What she also can’t miss is Sergey’s wife, Lillian’s increasingly hostile behaviour towards her.

And the thinly-veiled insinuations from Lillian’s sharp-tongued friend, Rena? It only serves to increase Lillian’s suspicions and raging paranoia.

To make matters worse, there are times that Hannah is convinced that Sergey wants something more from her than just a friendly smile, something that she’s not prepared to give.

As the weeks mount and the tension builds, she not only begins to suspect that something’s wrong in the household she’s staying in, but also that the reason she was chosen may be closely linked to the reason why her parents were killed.

Trafficked is a novel that everyone should read. Not only because it deals with an issue that’s unfortunately so prevalent, but because this book delves into aspects of Trafficking that so many people overlook.

When one thinks of Trafficking, one often thinks of girls being forced into prostitution.

Now while that certainly is a massive and horrendous part of it(and one that still doesn’t get enough coverage, much less have anything done about it), this novel focuses more on events that often precede it - girls being tricked into forced labour, and subjected to long, hard and thankless working hours.

The worst part of this?

Because most of them are illegals (and underage to boot), they have no way of getting any help;  running the risk of being jailed because they’re in a foreign country.

Kim Purcell’s character, Hannah is pretty remarkable. She’s wonderfully drawn out – curious, hopeful, courageous and strong in a quiet and reverberating way.

Although she’s generally cautious, her innate sense of goodness (and naivety) often lead her to ignoring those uncomfortable twinges she gets about certain people, resulting in her finding herself in daunting and perilous situations.

As a reader, I couldn’t help but feel the sense of hopelessness and helplessness that she felt when things were at their worst. I found myself wanting to comfort her, wishing I could help her and hoping against hope that she’d use that inner strength to find some way out.

But that’s not all.

One of the most important and most gut-wrenching aspects of this novel is the interactions between Lillian and Hannah.

As a woman, I believe that we should support one another, not break each other down, and experiencing Hannah’s agony at Lillian’s increasingly cold, callous and vicious hand, filled me with a huge amount of despair and desolation.

Not only that, but I was left with a feeling of helpless rage.

Rage towards a woman that was cruel to a lost, lonely teen who only wanted the best for her family. 

Rage because this woman is a mother whose instinct should be to nurture and protect, not to pass on the role of mother to a young girl who’s just lost her parents.

… And rage because this woman chose the vanity of her ego and paranoia over the word of vulnerable teen who was cast into the role of outsider from the moment she arrived.

I know.  It certainly doesn’t make for easy reading, does it?

It’s on that note that I have to add that I think it’s a great testimony to an author when a reader can feel so much fury towards a despicable character – for me, it speaks of a character that’s been created by an author finely attuned to the physical and emotional nuances and external forces that can affect the protagonists – in this case Hannah – in a novel.   

And in this novel, there are plenty of these moments. 

Trafficked is a beautifully written, slow, but insidious burn that will keep you edge - pushing and pulling you towards a devastating climax and an ending that will haunt you for days afterwards.

It’s a novel that gives no easy answers, has no easy resolutions and one that everyone interested and invested in the fight for human rights, should read.

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