Review: The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers, by Scott Carney

>>Published: May 2011

>>Finally got around to it: August 2011

They sprung the lock and revealed a medical ward fit for a horror movie. IV drips hung from makeshift poles and patients moaned as if they were recovering from a delirium. Five emaciated men lying on small woven cots could barely lift their heads to acknowledge the visitors. The sticky air inside was far from sterile. The sun beating down on the tin roof above their heads magnified the heat like a tandoor oven. One man stared at the ceiling with glassy eyes as his blood snaked through a tube and slowly drained into a plastic blood bag on the floor. He was too weak to protest.

***

The Red Market is not an easy book to digest. Through ten detailed, sometimes nauseating chapters, Scott Carney pulls back the many layers of exploitation, experimentation, harvesting, and piecemeal selling of humans and human organs. Targeted subjects include: the organ harvesting of corpses; the selling of kidneys and the thin red line of social acceptance it has reached in certain provinces in India; the kidnapping and subsequent cross-continental adoption of children from third world nations; the pharmaceutical practice of using willing human guinea pigs to test potentially dangerous new medicines; and even the growing market for real human hair.

Placing himself within the public and bureaucratic spheres, Carney is allowed a rare insider’s perspective into the goings-on of a market that few in the world might experience first-hand. The book is filled with tales of individuals being drained of their blood against their will; of women who, in order for their families to survive, have been forced to sell their kidneys for money; of Sivagama and Nageshwar, whose son Subash was taken from them in Chennai and adopted by a family in America’s Midwest. Most distressing, though, is that much of the heartbreak rests with a certain degree of acceptance—complacency regarding the systems that have evolved through the burgeoning red market and its growing influence. In some lights, the red market has become a necessary evil that must be lived with, for like an illegitimate government arm, it cannot be extinguished.

Carney, an investigative reporter, writes with a certain eye for dramatic punctuation that never detracts from the very real horrors he has experienced in his quest to unravel the many systems—on the books and off—that function as the poison root of the world’s many red markets. He offers us individuals as the basis for his investigation, and we see the horror through their eyes as the persistence of the red market takes its toll on entire regions, spreading itself beneath the surface of both Western and Eurasian cultures.

The Red Market is a thoughtful work of narrative-driven non-fiction. Carney is not afraid to do what is necessary to uncover the depths of human profiteering. It bears repeating: this is not an easy book to stomach, but it is an essential read nonetheless.

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