Beneath the oppressive rule of her stepfather, Lakshmi and her mother carve out a meager living in their remote village in the mountains of Nepal. They dream of a life of plenty: a tin roof, a jacket for the baby. Lakshmi dreams of the day she will marry the village boy to whom she is betrothed.
Monsoon rains and her stepfather’s gambling addiction destroy the family’s crops. Lakshmi learns of a job in the city. She can work as a maid and send money home to support her family. A beautiful woman comes to escort her to her new home. But something isn’t right. Money changes hands. More money than Lakshmi can imagine passes from the lovely woman to her stepfather. She is taken over the border and into Happiness House, where life for Lakshmi is anything but. It’s there she learns she’ll not earn money as a maid, but as a prostitute.
Lakshmi fights her slavery and continues to dream of her village and home. To dream of rescue. When the opportunity for rescue comes, she must choose between trusting the words a stranger and the word of the other girls who’ve become her friends.
Lakshmi’s village and her life there are so well-captured. Her experiences in the city at the brothel are appropriately more muted. Her emotional journey remains in crisp focus without overwhelming the reader with the horror of her daily experiences there. There are snippets of horror, to be sure. But it’s more muted.
This story is equal parts beautiful and tragic. McCormick introduces us to an innocent girl with whom we can’t help but fall in love. When the reality of Happiness House shatters Lakshmi’s dreams, the reader can’t help but be wounded with her, which is exactly why this is such an important tale. Thousands of young girls are sold into prostitution every year. McCormick’s novel teaches us to empathize with these innocent, trapped girls without judging them. The writing is powerful, moving and intense.
Because this is the tragic story of a girl sold into prostitution, there is some unavoidable sexual content. In one scene, Lakshmi is handed over to a man who tries to rape her. She describes him forcefully kissing her and attempting to position himself between her legs while she fights back. It’s intense but the narrative is not explicit beyond what I’ve already described here. Lakshmi is later drugged and receives visits from men while in this defenseless state. Again, there’s not a lot of explicit description of what goes on, though a few of the vague descriptions are still intense. Readers are left to fill in the blanks when Lakshmi says a man makes her do “dirty things,” etc. When men begin visiting her, she is left physically damaged, which she briefly describes.
Lakshmi and her family pray and make offerings to locally worshipped deities in her remote Nepalese village.
See above description of rape scene. Lakshmi and the other girls are beaten if they do not comply with Mumtaz. At one point, Mumtaz threatens to take a woman’s children. There are rumors that she would maim the child and sell it to a beggar.
Lakshmi’s step-father appears to have gambling and alcohol addictions.