The Trader of Saigon by Lucy Cruickshanks

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The Trader of Saigon by Lucy Cruickshanks

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A touching, sometimes brutal slice of life from the Saigon that remained when the war correspondents went home. Authentic, beautiful and highly accomplished; all novels should aspire to be this good.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: July 2013
Publisher: Heron Books
ISBN: 978-1782063216

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In the Saigon of the 1980s the Vietnam War is over but the traces remain. Alexander has deserted from the US army and makes a comfortable living selling girls to local business men. Phuc used to be a business man, complete with mansion and the means to keep his wife and three children in affluence. Now his family live in a shanty hut, afraid of the ruling government that spies through the eyes of children. At last he finds a way out, his luck just needs to hold. Hanh also lives in poverty, desperately trying to help her sick mother with the pittance she earns from cleaning one of the city's many open latrines. Then one day she meets someone who offers so much more. His name is Alexander.

Bath Spa University creative writing course celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2012, for which we should be grateful. Why? Its nurtured some wonderful talent including Nikita Lalwani, Jennifer McVeigh and now The Trader of Saigon author Lucy Cruickshanks can be added to the list for this superlative snapshot of life post-Vietnam-war inspired by a discussion she once had on a plane.

Lucy's style is absorbing form page one, plunging us into the starkness of daily survival. We don't take long to get to know Alexander, Phuc and Hanh as their characters walk before our minds' eyes triggering engagement and caring. That's the trick: we care about each of them, even Alexander whom we'd probably take an instant dislike to if someone else described him to us. We may not want to invite him to dinner but he's as much a victim of his past life and current environment as the other two. Looking around he's uncertain what he fought for and is so ashamed of his part in creating this impoverished, violent country that he affects a Russian accent to hide behind.

Lucy's ability to kick-start our collective imagination isn't limited to envisaging people. We feel the humidity and almost smell the small claustrophobic hut Hahn shares with her invalid mother (a phrase that's culturally correct for the setting, if not sounding politically correct to us). Having said that, there are also vestiges of hope that serve to prevent our vicarious despair and encourage us to turn the pages avariciously.

The book blurb compares The Trader to Tea Obreht's award winning The Tiger's Wife but for me The Trader is more accessible. Effective in its apparent simplicity while creating a sense of shock as we watch the prey and the hunters. If you'd like a comparison it's more like Ru by Kim Thuy which is another compliment to Lucy's empathy considering that Ru is written from personal experience.

The Vietnamese war may have been something that powers such as the Americans and Australians couldn't win but in this novel we're shown the peacetime fight of the indigenous people took part in on a daily basis once the war correspondents' cameras were turned off. Two different conflicts perhaps, but each, as Lucy shows us, equally as strewn with casualties.

If this appeals and you'd like to read more about life in Vietnam before and after the fighting, we just as heartily recommend Ru.

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Buy The Trader of Saigon by Lucy Cruickshanks at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Trader of Saigon by Lucy Cruickshanks at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Trader of Saigon by Lucy Cruickshanks at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Trader of Saigon by Lucy Cruickshanks at

Booklists.jpg The Trader of Saigon by Lucy Cruickshanks is in the Top Ten General Fiction Books of 2013.


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