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A Walk Across the Sun: Interview with Corban Addison

Jay and I have an interesting travel tradition: every time we take a long haul flight, we buy a John Grisham novel at the airport.  So imagine my excitement when I read these words last year:

“Since my first novel was released over 20 years ago, I have been presented with many opportunities to endorse the works of other authors hoping to find a publisher. I have always declined, until now. Corban Addison has written a novel that is beautiful in its story and also important in its message…”                                                                                                                                                     -John Grisham

walkacrosssunA book about human trafficking?  Endorsed by John Grisham?  I simply had to read it.  A Walk Across the Sun starts off with the 2006 tsunami in India.  It follows the story of two sisters who find themselves abducted by traffickers, and an American attorney whose pro bono sabbatical leads him to undertake a life changing personal mission.  Corban Addison was kind enough to agree to an interview with Hope for the Sold.

To research context for the book, you spent some time with an NGO in Asia. Can you share a story of something you experienced or witnessed there that had an impact on you?

I knew that to write a compelling novel on the global trade in human beings it needed to be as accurate as possible. So after reading everything I could get my hands on, I went to India and Europe and spent time with NGOs in the field. I was privileged to interview investigators from the International Justice Mission in Mumbai, to go to court with their lawyers, and to meet girls they had rescued with the help of the police.

Also, I went undercover into the brothels of Kamathipura, posing as a customer. That was, by far, the most affecting experience of my research. I didn’t need a degree in psychology to see that the girls I met were not there willingly. I’ll never forget shaking the brothel owner’s hand after declining to make a purchase. I wished I could do something to save those girls, but anything I might have tried would have endangered them further. The best I could do was to come home and tell their story.

Judging from the feedback you’ve received, how are readers being influenced by this novel?

My hope in writing A Walk Across the Sun was to tell the kind of story that would enlighten people about modern-day slavery and compel them to take action to combat it. It’s been a joy, therefore, to see readers around the world responding this way to the book. People’s eyes have been opened and their hearts ignited to join the abolitionist cause. I’ve gotten the same sort of response whenever I’ve spoken on the topic. Human trafficking is that rare subject that transcends all of the barriers that often divide us–politics, religion, nationality, etc. Everyone is horrified by it, and everyone wants to know what they can do to stop it.

How has your life changed since writing A Walk Across the Sun?

My wife gave me the idea for the book. If she had known what it would take to research it, to write it, and then to get it published, I’m not sure she would have opened her mouth. How glad we are now that she did. Not only have I changed my career path (leaving the practice of law to write and advocate full-time), but I’ve met the most amazing people, traveled to some extraordinary places, and gotten the chance to promote a cause I care about deeply. It’s a beautiful synergy and something I hope to pursue with many future novels on different human rights issues.

What is the one question you wish people would ask you?

The most important question people can ask about trafficking is what can we do about it? Not everyone can be an FBI agent, a human rights lawyer, or a social worker caring for survivors. But everyone can make a real difference. Parents need to educate their kids about trafficking. The average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is 13-15. Young teenage girls are targets. It doesn’t matter if they’re poor or rich, if they are from the inner city or a gated community, girls need to know that there are recruiters watching for them–at shopping malls, at parties, in chat rooms and social media sites, wherever kids hang out. They need to be wise about the friends they make, especially with young men.

Also, boys need to be educated about sex trafficking so that they don’t become purchasers of sex and fuel the trade with their cash. Educators need to bring the subject into the schools, like we’ve done with the drug issue. Charities like the International Justice Mission need our financial support to do their heroic work. The possibilities are endless, but it is up to us to engage.

Tell us something about yourself that most people wouldn’t know.

One of the unexpected consequences of writing issue-oriented fiction is that I don’t get the chance to read many novels anymore. I don’t read fiction when I’m writing (to avoid unconsciously borrowing from the story or style of another writer), and my research and travel schedule are so intensive that they don’t leave me a lot of time to read for pleasure. I hope that will change as my career matures.

What’s next?

My next novel, The Garden of Burning Sand, is in the hands of my publishers and will be released sometime this year. It’s coming out in Canada at the end of March, but it won’t be out in the rest of the English speaking world until the fall. It takes on a variety of interrelated human rights issues in Southern Africa and the United States and is part mystery, part legal thriller, and part family drama.

You can purchase A Walk Across the Sun in bookstores or online.  A Kindle edition is also available.  I know that Corban would also love if we all supported the work of International Justice Mission (or IJM Canada for those of us north of the border!), so if you are feeling generous, please don’t hesitate to check out their important work and make a donation!

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