The Great Escape: A True Story of Forced Labor and Immigrant Dreams in America (Hardcover)
Shortlisted for the 2023 Moore Prize
The astonishing story of immigrants lured to the United States from India and trapped in forced labor—an "eye-opening" "must-read" told by the visionary labor leader who engineered their escape and set them on a path to citizenship (The New York Times Book Review).
In late 2006, Saket Soni, a twenty-eight-year-old Indian-born community organizer, received an anonymous phone call from an Indian migrant worker in Mississippi. He was one of five hundred men trapped in squalid Gulf Coast “man camps,” surrounded by barbed wire, watched by guards, crammed into cold trailers with putrid toilets, forced to eat moldy bread and frozen rice. Recruiters had promised them good jobs and green cards. The men had scraped up $20,000 each for this “opportunity” to rebuild hurricane-wrecked oil rigs, leaving their families in impossible debt. During a series of clandestine meetings, Soni and the workers devised a bold plan. In The Great Escape, Soni traces the workers’ extraordinary escape, their march on foot to Washington, DC, and their twenty-three-day hunger strike to bring attention to their cause. Along the way, ICE agents try to deport the men, company officials work to discredit them, and politicians avert their eyes. But none of this shakes the workers’ determination to win their dignity and keep their promises to their families.
Weaving a deeply personal journey with a riveting tale of twenty-first-century forced labor, Soni takes us into the lives of the immigrant workers the United States increasingly relies on to rebuild after climate disasters. The Great Escape is the gripping story of one of the largest human trafficking cases in modern American history—and the workers’ heroic journey for justice.
—Farah Stockman, The New York Times Book Review
“Beyond the research, this book stands out for its startlingly complex and intimate portraits… This book will appeal to students of U.S. immigration and civil-rights history, as well as anyone who loves a beautifully told story."—Library Journal (Starred Review)
“Revelatory… Soni writes with empathy and conviction. This is a searing account of the harrowing road to justice.”—Publishers Weekly
“A searing exposé of corporate criminality and its governmental enablers.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Interwoven with the author's own story of visa instability, The Great Escape illuminates the lives affected by human trafficking and the complexity of U.S. immigration bureaucracy.”—Booklist
“It’s paced like a thriller, written like a poem, and full of vivid characters who’d enliven any novel, but it’s the true story one of the largest modern-day trafficking incidents in recent history and how Saket Soni and his crew went after the powerful perpetrators. A story as important as it is riveting to read.”—Rebecca Solnit, author of Orwell’s Roses
“A miracle—immensely moving, powerful, beautiful, and true. It reads like a binge-worthy thriller, told with ridiculous skill and Saket Soni’s gigantic heart pounding audibly on every page.”—Naomi Klein, New York Times bestselling author of On Fire
“I've rarely read a more engrossing tale—and a more powerful reminder that in a strained and stressed world we must embrace human solidarity above all. You will not forget this book, not for a long, long time.”—Bill McKibben, New York Times bestselling author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
“One of this country’s most remarkable activists is also an extraordinary writer. From the very first moment of this world-spanning story Saket Soni has you in his grip. The Great Escape makes you feel astonishment, compassion, anger, and, at the end, something rare these days—hope.”—Adam Hochschild, New York Times bestselling author of King Leopold’s Ghost and Rebel Cinderella
“Saket Soni’s The Great Escape is a revelation: into the underbelly of America’s broken immigration system; into the forces of globalization that move millions of people from the poor to the rich countries without regard for their welfare; into one man's epic struggle to obtain justice for the powerless. The book has the pacing and suspense of the best fiction, but is a true story, told with empathy and humor and wisdom. The Great Escape promises to take its place in the annals of the finest narrative writing about migration.”—Suketu Mehta, author of This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto
“Saket Soni’s The Great Escape is a gripping, devastating, and powerfully written book, a must-read for anyone interested in the real world stakes of migration, corporate corruption, and federal law enforcement.”—Olúf?´mi O. Táíwò, author of Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (And Everything Else)
“An urgent book from a master storyteller. Saket hasn't just helped liberate hundreds of trafficked workers—he has also set free an equal number of magical narratives. Right till the end, this extraordinary work is as absorbing as a great novel.”—Amitava Kumar, author of Immigrant, Montana: A Novel
“The Great Escape is part crime caper and part epic. Soni pulls off a page-turning marvel revealing the lengths people will go for economic dignity—and the equal lengths others will go to wring profit from hope. This is a book you will never forget.”—Lauren Markham, author of The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life
“Very intense and gripping. . . Brilliant, poetic, suspenseful, and important.”—Amazon Book Review