Sex trafficking is a global problem. And yet, it is often baffling how that dark world can coexist parallel to ours, with the vast majority of us being unaware of its horrors. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing chaos in almost all of its former republics created a particularly fertile ground for the spread of, among other crimes, sex trafficking from that region.
A new novel by Vahan Zanoyan, entitled A Place Far Away, exposes the nature of that beast and touches upon a variety of social and cultural issues rarely seen in today’s literary and entertainment world.
“This is a powerful and well organized crime network that targets the most vulnerable elements in society,” says Zanoyan. “Young and underage girls from broken homes, orphans and children from extremely poor families and remote villages are the primary targets of sex traffickers.”
Zanoyan felt compelled to write the book after encountering an underage Armenian victim of the sex trade in Dubai. “It was not easy to extract her story from her,” he says, “but once I managed to do so, I was obsessed with the phenomenon.” So he spent the next eighteen months researching that world, interviewing over a dozen other girls, visiting their home towns back in Armenia, talking to officials in a few countries and meeting with organizations committed to fighting human trafficking. He then decided to write a novel based largely on real events.
Why fiction? “I wanted to reach the widest possible audience in order to create the widest possible public awareness of the problem,” says Zanoyan. “I believe silence encourages this phenomenon, while exposure can act as a deterrent.” By choosing fiction, he could combine several different stories into one plot, providing the widest possible illustration of the various aspects of sex trafficking.
A Place Far Away tells the story of Lara Galian, a hauntingly beautiful sixteen-year-old from a poor village in Armenia. When a ruthless oligarch approaches Lara’s father with an offer to manage her through a wonderful and successful modeling career, her father refuses and is subsequently murdered. A month later, Lara’s mother accepts the offer and Lara is whisked away, only to be violently raped and sent to Moscow. Forced into prostitution, Lara refuses to accept her fate and goes through the motions as she’s moved from Moscow to Dubai and eventually sold for one year to a local VIP. She sets forth to escape while a Swiss investigative reporter works to help Lara and her family from back in Armenia. As plots begin to unfold and crumble all around her, Lara’s chances of escape begin to look increasingly slim, but with unlikely allies, the extraordinary courage and moral fiber of her family, and a spirit that never dies, Lara’s fate is far from sealed.
Zanoyan will donate all the net proceeds to a few organizations engaged in either fighting sex trafficking, or in rehabilitating rescued victims, who often suffer from prolonged psychological and physical damage.
At least two well known professional reviews give the book a thumbs up:
“Zanoyan illuminates the seedy world of sex trafficking in the newly independent states of the former USSR. … The rarely discussed subject matter from a seldom-seen part of the world makes for a compelling storyline … With his deft handling of personalities and the atmosphere of village life, Zanoyan gives depth to the narrative while individualizing his characters as the community exerts incredible effort to protect one of its own.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A Place Far Away is a compelling novel by a skilled writer who knows how to build narrative tension. … Zanoyan does not sugarcoat the horrific reality of human trafficking; from the outset, readers will be drawn right into Lara’s nightmare. … [in this] thought provoking novel, Zanoyan takes the reader from poverty-stricken villages in Armenia to Moscow and Dubai in a straightforward depiction of the horrors of human trafficking. … [his] description of the different lands and cultures is thorough, resulting in a credible and realistic setting.” Jeannine Chartier Hanscom, Clarion Review.