Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Travelling Light by J.L. Morin, Harvard Square Editions

TRAVELLING LIGHT manages to combine a tense thriller with a serious shocking truth-the reality of slavery in our time. The story is told by Mackenize, an archaeologist with two kids and a diplomat husband. When he is recalled to his native island of Styxos in the Mediterranean, she leaves her old life and employment behind and gains her long-held romantic fantasy of life on a beautiful Mediterranean island. Problem is her husband Charon is increasingly withdrawn and emotionally removed from her. Thinking it's due to his father's recent death, she vows to bring back the warm earthy man she fell in love with-who bridged the west and his own ancient "collectivist" culture.

But there are scary portents when they arrive. On a visit to the beach, she is suddenly surrounded by three threatening men, until they realize she is with Charon. Her uneasy feeling grows, as Charon installs his family in his run-down boyhood home with his mother, a supposed temporary situation that becomes permanent. And he further withdraws, relating to her only as the caretaker of his children. But pragmatic and resourceful, Mac volunteers at a local site, paints the house and learns the Styxian language and culture. Despite wanting to put a positive light on her marriage, she becomes increasingly concerned about protecting her children from Charon's irrational temper.

With no income, living with a secretive angry amn, Mac's isolate is almost complete. So with relief, she accepts an invitation to an Investor's Gala, since Styxos is an aspiring EU accession state. The evening is full of intriguing people, the gorgeous talented Niovi and her fiancee the magnetic Farouk. Then a woman's body is disocovered in the hotel's swimming pool. She is identified as a Russian prostitute and Farouk is under suspicion of the murder.

On the way to the Gala, Mac had seen the same woman in the abusive company of one of the men who cornered her on the beach. And he seemed to recognize Charon, though that idea is put aside. With her trained instinct for uncovering history, Mac quietly researches the Russian woman, who haunts her imagination. Eventually, she unearths the reality of sex slaves on Styxos, how they come to the island and are traded for moeny. This dark business, intersects with the sexual tourism on the island. It is an underbelly of the traditional culture that could derail it's efforts to attract investment and enter the EU.

Mac sees it as the dark side of a traditional culture where men are taught to disregard women--except for how they serve them as wives and mothers. When she is offered a job at a TV station, which of course comes through a call to her husband, Mac becomes friendly with Niovi. Then she learns about the deep mystical aspects of Styxos and the underlying power of women. With employement comes more freedom to investigate the murder and the roots of the slave trade. Along the way, Mack comes to believe Farouk is not the murderer and together they begin to unravel the truth.

What she discovers threatens not just the future of Styxos but her life and that of her children. Because she is educated and has friends, she is able to fight back against the criminal forces that would enslave her. And realize how she had enabled them through her marriage.

TRUE FACT: Slavery has endured into modern times. There are now at least twice as many real slaves on earth as there were in the 1700's. The UN has set up a Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Slave Trafficking in Persons to combat this hell on earth. Free the Slaves estimated there are 27 million slaves worldwide in the year 2010--men, women and children captured violently forced into unpaid labour who cannot walk away.

The author admirably dramatizes this, using an intelligent everywoman, who sees the origins in the jealousy and depersonalization of her own marriage.