The inspiration behind The Trader of Saigon
The Trader of Saigon was inspired by a chance meeting on a flight between Singapore and Vietnam in 2007, when I sat next to a man who sold Vietnamese brides. He described himself as a matchmaker; someone who helped aspirational young women find better lives with Chinese or Western men.
He told me how desirable Asian women were – they were loyal, obedient and hard working – and how he was doing them a service by helping them to find love. He was incredibly proud of how rich this had made him. I was shocked by his arrogance and flippancy, but utterly fascinated.
Back in Britain, I looked him. His business was licenced by the government of Singapore and apparently operated entirely within the realms of the law. I started to take a wider look, however, at the Asian marriage industry. It didn’t take much digging to find that whilst some genuine matchmakers do exist, many more ‘legitimate’ companies are fronts for traffickers; groups that mislead, coerce or kidnap women and girls and sell them into forced marriage, prostitution and slavery.
The man I met may or may not have been involved in trafficking, but he made me think hard about where the line between matchmaking and trafficking lies – and who draws it. This question became the basis for the novel.