In his debut novel, Zanoyan illuminates the seedy world of sex trafficking in the newly independent states of the former USSR.
In and around Armenia, two world wars and decades of Soviet rule haven’t been kind to the inhabitants. The same corrupt officials still rule, albeit under a newly democratized government. Freedom and justice are concepts bandied about by politicians but rarely enacted. One day, a parochial oligarch who’s recruiting local girls for his sex trade approaches Samvel Galian, offering him a handsome sum of cash and the promise of work for his daughter as a model in Greece. Though a poor peasant, Samvel isn’t stupid; he politely declines the offer. But shortly thereafter, Samvel turns up dead. After his death is conveniently ruled an accident, his grieving widow accepts the offer she can no longer refuse: Her beautiful 16-year-old daughter will become a prostitute. 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. Some of the Armenian and Russian people and places may be difficult for English speakers to distinguish, but the imagery can instill a real sense of terror, like the sight of treacherous roads, where a lapse in concentration might result in tumbling down the mountainside. Portrayals of village life are similarly vivid; icy wind blows a cold chill, and a damp, earthy smell wafts over from the farm animals that freely roam the streets.
The rarely discussed subject matter from a seldom-seen part of the world makes for a compelling storyline, and the strong-willed, seemingly forgotten people help set it apart.