What inspired you to write a book that explores sex trafficking?
Stories find me. I don’t seek them out. Each story takes hold
of my head and heart and compels me to sit down to what turns out to be three
to six years’ work.
I had never contemplated writing a book about sex
trafficking. In 2015, after attending a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof,” I
was curious about Tevye’s other daughters. I knew that in the original writing
of the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, Tevye had seven daughters, so I ordered
the book of short stories. That’s when I stumbled upon another story by the
author, “The Man from Buenos Aires” (now in my own translation on my website). In this tale, the author reports
about his encounter on the train with a shady, sleek character who brags about
his entrepreneurial success but never reveals the nature of his business. I
suspected what the venture that brought this fellow his riches might be: sex
trafficking. I put aside this 1909 story and turned to modern-day Google.
That’s where I learned of Zwi Migdal, and was appalled to discover that it had
been a legal trafficking union—and that it had operated with impunity for
seventy years. It was shocking to realize how much information about it was
hiding in plain sight. Most appalling to me was that the estimated over 150,000
Jewish girls and women, who had been exploited by members of this organization,
had been forgotten, lost in the goo of history.
Since these “Railroad Stories” collection was bundled
together, it was a natural creative process to continue where “Fiddler on the
Roof” left off—or where Sholem Aleichem neglected to tell us the rest (reporting
the stories of only five of the seven daughters.) However, moving forward, two
sisters were enough to give the protagonist the motivation to get on the road
with this mysterious stranger, thus THE THIRD DAUGHTER.
What challenges did you have in researching and writing your book?
struggle between telling the stories of subjugated women who’ve been forgotten,
and reporting anything bad about Jews.
How did you get into a sex slave’s mind and heart in order to
accurately depict her?
I write fresh material, I close my eyes and enter into a trance that is like a
dream, where I hear the sounds, see the sights, smell the aromas, and feel the
weather on my skin. I type the scene in real time, as it happens. Later I clean
it up, but at the moment of trance, I crawl under the skin of the protagonist
and feel her emotions and experience whatever befalls her—or what makes her
rise over the forces that may break anyone else….
Your novel was recently named a finalist in the National Jewish
Book Council. Are you surprised at the attention it has received?
quite. During the writing of the novel I was concerned that the story—including
the explicit scenes and raw emotions—might not have the universal appeal that
my publisher, HarperCollins, seeks for its works of fiction, and therefore
perhaps THE THIRD DAUGHTER would be more suitable for a university publisher.
But when my editor read the book and thought it was “stupendous,” I
of my novels deals with a social issue hardly ever covered in fiction, and as
such it gets attention—assisted by incredible opportunities that literally drop
on my path to help carry the message further. (For example, for THE THIRD
DAUGHTER I was invited to present the topic of sex trafficking at the UN Commission
on the Status of Women on March 20th, which was canceled due to the
COVID-19 virus.) Needless to say, the attention grows with each novel as the
circle of my readers grows, reviewers feel more sure-footed in praising it,
more prestigious award committees bestow their honors, event organizers put me
in front of larger crowds, and the media has yet another great non-fiction hook
to work with.
Your book takes place two centuries ago. How does it parallel
the methods traffickers used 120 years ago to lure girls and women from abroad
are the same as the ones used today—false promises of jobs and even marriage
(mail-order brides,) followed by physical and psychological coercion. And while
in the late 1800s it took three-four weeks to transport the victims from
Eastern Europe to the New World by sea and it now takes just several hours of
flight, the victims eagerness to escape poverty, war or squalor makes them just
as vulnerable to fall for the false promises. In some cases the victims are
outright kidnapped and transported under threats of harm caused to their loved
ones left behind.
How bad is the problem and what should be done about it?
of sex slaves in the USA today are US-born, and one-third have arrived from outside
the USA. It is estimated that roughly 50,000 new victims are lured or recruited
each year. The US-born are often teenagers, with the entry age ranging from
twelve to fourteen years old. They come from underserved, vulnerable pockets of
our society marked by poverty, drug-use, families in crisis—and are often
already victims of sexual traumas, including incest.
these US-born kids are still in school, they are under our care. We must put a
lot more education to help them avoid traps such as the internet, and marshal
resources to help them deal with the crisis in their lives, including
overhauling our foster-care system that is, tragically, a direct line to
most crucial way of confronting the problem is to focus our attention on the
demand side of the equation—men who pay for sexual services. The demand side
fuels the entire industry, and the billions of dollars that benefit traffickers
only come from men raping girls and women who are enslaved. Working with the
victims of today to help them out is important, but to minimize the victims of
tomorrow we must educate men to respect women and their humanity and to stop
viewing them as merchandize to do with as they please. As a society we must
send a clear message that buying another human being is not a normative
How do women recover from essentially being raped multiple times a
day for many weeks, months, or even years?
way out of life of prostitution is long and hard, and the barriers are
extremely high. Low self-esteem, drug use to numb the pain of the onslaught,
and poor health as a result of neglect and violence are combined with the lack
of marketable employment skills and a support network that will even give these
women a safe place to sleep the first three nights out, let alone in the months
and years of rehabilitation and psychological recovery. Luckily, besides
official social services, there are hundreds of local organizations of
volunteers in every town and village across the USA. My website lists such organizations’
links, and the readers of this blog can search where they can help by inserting
their zip code.
What do you hope the reader will take away from the novel?
humanity of Batya, the protagonist, who keeps her core untouched, her faith in
God, and her devotion to her family in spite of everything. In a more mundane
way, I hope that the reader will enjoy the historical aspects of the growth of
Buenos Aires, the development of tango in the brothels of that city, and the
redemptive satisfaction that many readers feel after the words, THE END.
information, please check out: www.TaliaCarner.com
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