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the red market book review

Written By Franklin V on Friday, November 18, 2011 | 8:08 PM

Book: The Red Market 

Author: Scott Carney Hachette 
Pages; Price: 254 pages; Rs 550

This book promises much. It sets out to inspect the rise of the "multi-billion trade in human bodies and body parts", something author Scott Carney calls a vast global economy known as the red market

But what The Red Market delivers is a spotty investigation into these grisly realities. Carney, a journalist who has lived in India, bites off more than he can chew, stuffing in a diverse range of subjects - body snatching, surrogacy, bone trading, kidney rackets, drug trails, and so on - into a 254-page book. He spreads his research wide and thin. With a flair for colourful exaggeration and lurid detail, Carney's telling of the story is high on adrenaline and low on gravity. The result is an indifferent offering which mostly reads like a horror story rather than a rigorous investigation into shadowy businesses where the dividing lines between the market, fuzzy regulation and ethics have blurred dangerously. 

The main problem with The Red Market - much of it is clearly written for uninformed Western audiences - is that it often resorts to sweeping generalisations. Carney writes of a thriving illegal trade in human skeletons in Bengal. As proof, he serves up findings from a visit to a village where the police had unearthed a bone factory in 2007. This was widely reported in gruesome detail by the Indian media. Carney's account does not add much to it. Then he visits an anatomical supply distributor's warehouse in Kolkata and interviews a dodgy politician who tells him he raided the place in 2001 and hauled away five trucks full of human skeletons ready to be shipped all over the world. The chapter ends with another sweeping conclusion: "The bone factories of Kolkata are back in business". Which bone factory of Kolkata is he talking about? 

Carney's exploration of India's thriving blood market is also hobbled by scanty journalism. He revisits a well-known incident in the border town of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh where a dairy farmer and owner - "a ruthless modern-day vampire" - ran a veritable blood farm, apparently locking up hapless donors. The shocking story was widely reported in the media in 2008. There is, again, very little that Carney adds to what we know about this horrific episode.

Some of the standout investigation that the book promises finally happens when Carney travels to Midwest America and traces down the adoptive parents of a boy who was allegedly kidnapped from his biological parents living in a Chennai slum. After six years of searching for their son, the biological parents find that an orphanage in the city had "exported their child" to a family abroad. It is a moving account of the loving adoptive parents and the distressed biological parents, the latter torn between love for their son and the realisation that he has a better life abroad. "We know he is in a good home," the slum dweller father tells Carney. "It's not realistic for us to ask for him back, but let us at least know him." 

Carney also revisits the done-to-death story about the booming surrogate childbirth business in Anand. Dr Nayna Patel's clinic delivers contract babies and has been the subject of much uncritical international media coverage. Carney raises some valid points about how Indian surrogate mothers get less than their American counterparts and questions the clinic's locking down of the surrogates. But, in the end, The Red Market loses it way in its outsize ambition to trawl the depths of a murky trade involving human beings, and is only interesting in parts.
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