I finished reading The Trader of Saigon by Lucy Cruickshanks today and I have to admit that I find it quite a gripping novel despite initial misgivings. It is a dark tale dealing with human trafficking, corruption and poverty in post-war Vietnam where three seemingly unconnected lives are brought together in greed, fear and hope.
As a US Army deserter, Alexander is posing as a Russian trader for the sake of his safety. He is the trader of Saigon the title refers to, embroiled in the dark business of trading women. Having fallen under the stewardship of a man known only as the Herder, Alexander earns his living procuring young women – as prostitutes, wives, mistresses and maids – for wealthy businessmen, or for others to whom love and service are simple transactions. Alexander tells himself he’s doing the young women a favour by taking them off the streets and finding them a job or a husband.
Alexander’s latest victim is 15-year old Hanh, a poor rural girl living with her sick mother in a rural area outside Hanoi. Every day she uses her bike to get into the city for her job which is collecting payments from customers of a squat toilet that’s little more than a hole in the ground. She dreams of escaping the inevitability of an impoverished future and Alexander’s arrival seems like the answer to her prayer.
Neither Alexander nor Hanh has ever met Phuc – a Vietnamese businessman who backed the wrong side in the war and is now unable to pay his financial and political debts to the Party. But his struggles are about to change both their lives. Phuc used to be a successful and rather rich businessman, selling fish to the good restaurants and making quite a name for himself and his family. But after the war he is a target for the government because his fish often ended up on the plates of the rich Americans and they believe that therefore he is traitor. Now without a steady job or income, and most of the time fearing for his life, Phuc is barely able to support his family. He’s lost all dignity and is desperate to change his bad fortune around.
The Trader of Saigon is a tale of redemption and salvation in which a man trapped in an abyss of his own making must make a life-defining choice: stay true to the man he has become, or take one final grasp at becoming human once again.
This book deserves the plaudits critics have heaped on it. Lucy Cruickshanks has produced a story that captures vividly the aftermath of the war in Vietnam
The harrowing storyline makes uncomfortable reading at times but the compelling story will touch your heart.