A novel which horrifies as it heartens, “Harvesting” is a crucial piece of meaningful fiction which tells the tale we would rather look away from.
In a world which seems not just fascinated, but obsessed, with the grotesque things which human beings do to one another, it seems strange to be recommending a book which shows just that. But “Harvesting” is so much more than an anxiety educing, outraging, account of the human trafficking and sex industries.
Lisa Harding is a former actor and her début novel evolved from a series of monologues she was asked to read that were written by women who had been trafficked into Ireland. as part of an awareness program. Thus began a journey for Harding as she sought to get to the depthsof these stories, and tell them.
“Harvesting” follows two girls as they make their drastically different journeys into the underground world of the Irish sex industry. Nico, (who is one of my new literary heroes) is from Moldova, in a world which bares a striking resemblance to Patrick Kavanagh's Tarry Flynn. Upon getting her first period and “reaching womanhood” she is set to marry, a dowry is received from a man 3 times her age. She is picked up, and taken away, never to see her family again. What her family don't know, or perhaps choose not to see, is that this is not an arranged marriage. This is a transaction, Nico has been sold, from one man (her father) to another. And this new one has plans for her. He is a human trafficker, and Nico is his newest acquisition.
Meanwhile, a thousand miles away in quiet South County Dublin, Sammy, a teenage tearaway is at her wits end with an abusive mother and an absentee father. Despite friends and people around her trying to steer her right, she resits at every turn, eventually deciding the only way to have power over her own life is to take that power to herself, and so she takes employment in a local brothel. But this does not give her the freedom she expects, as her choices are stripped from her and she is left trapped in a situation, which seems like there is no hope.
As we follow Nico across Europe and Sammy from bed to bed, we see the startling differences in their struggles, but the familiar sense that they are not in-charge of their own lives. They never were. Men have made their lives for them, and is in the hands of these men their future now rests. Unless they can claim back their lives for themselves.
Shocking, and poignant the book never lets up, and amazing prose carries you though, and will even have you laughing out loud as you, like for characters, laughter is the only desperate release from the horrors of the world around. A book which is full of the unexpected, Harding, keeps you on your toes while never keeping a tear fully from you eye. And important and engaging book. And part of a literary heritage of telling the stories of those who cannot tell it themselves.