ST Book Club: Author of Organ Gold wrote novel to reignite debate on legalising organ trade

Author Raju Chellam discussed his novel, Organ Gold, at the ninth edition of The Straits Times Book Club on Nov 28.
Author Raju Chellam discussed his novel, Organ Gold, at the ninth edition of The Straits Times Book Club on Nov 28.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Organ trading over the Dark Web was in the spotlight at the ninth edition of The Straits Times (ST) Book Club on Wednesday (Nov 28). About 205 attended the session at the National Library Building, where author Raju Chellam discussed his novel, Organ Gold.

He spoke of the hidden dangers of the Dark Web, the part of the Internet used by activists and illegal traders alike in order to escape surveillance. "There are people who will give you a heart for $130,000. They will kill a man to give you his heart," said the 60-year-old author, warning readers to stay off the Dark Web for their own safety.

In response to questions about whether his research into the Dark Web had led him into trouble, he laughed and said: "I won't answer that question."

Organ Gold was published in August by Straits Times Press and has sold close to 600 copies so far. The author is donating all his royalties to the National Kidney Foundation.

The plot involves an American teen savant, who falls into a coma after an accident in Singapore. His parents are approached by an illicit broker, who offers them a lot of money for their son's organs.

Mr Chellam wants his novel to reignite the debate on legalising organ trading in Singapore. At the book club, he spoke about how his novel was inspired by the real-life experience of a friend who had tried buying a kidney on the Dark Web when his wife was in the end stages of renal failure. The transaction was not completed and she died.

Organ failure is a complication of diabetes, a disease for which Singapore has the second-highest proportion of sufferers among all developed nations, lagging behind only the United States, according to a 2015 report by the International Diabetes Federation. "When your organs fail, what will you do?" the author asked the audience.

Vice-president of new technologies for Fusionex International, an IT software group that specialises in analytics and big data, Mr Chellam has been in the information and communication technology industry for more than 35 years. His former roles included IT editor of The Business Times and head of big data & cloud practice for Dell South Asia.

For his novel, he spent three years researching the organ trade, surfing the Dark Web and speaking with donors, brokers, doctors, transplant patients and even Interpol, to understand the dangers and rewards.

He is in favour of legalising the organ trade, he said in response to questions at the book club.

Law graduate Charlotte Lim, 22, attended the book club and said she was planning to read Organ Gold. "It was an eye-opener," she said. "I didn't expect the author to be an advocate for legalising such transactions. It's not the most correct answer but it's a very practical view of things."

Mr Chellam's 11-year-old god-daughter Corrinne Chua was also in the audience. She was the book's first reader. "I think the book is great. I'm going to recommend it to all my friends," said the Primary 5 pupil at Alexandra Primary School. She is a fan of horror tales and darkNetflix series like Stranger Things. "The book wasn't scary," she added.

"I wrote it for her. It's a family-friendly book," Mr Chellam told his audience at the book club. "It's also for your children to read because if a parent has kidney failure, who suffers the most? It's the children."

This was the ninth edition of the ST Book Club, which has featured other writers published by ST Press, including plastic surgeon Woffles Wu, author of Life In Plastic, in September and last month's discussion of Dr Delinquent: A Guide To Decoding The Teenage Years by Dr Carol Balhetchet and Fieldnotes Of A Psychiatrist by Professor Chong Siow Ann.

The book club takes a break next month and returns on Jan 30 with a discussion of Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong's Sunday Emails From A Chairman.