Tuesday, April 17, 2012

“Time walks fast”

Here's a bit from Christoper G. Moore's novel Zero Hour in Phnom Penh or, more precisely, from the author's introduction to a 2005 reissue of the book, which had first appeared in 1994.

Moore calls the introduction "Genocide to Latte," the jarring contrast meant to suggest the jarring strangeness of his return to a country once ruled by terror and human extermination, then by a nervous, edgy post-war sense that anything could happen, and now by tourists in expensive hotels and Cambodians hungry to rejoin the world:
“`Time walks fast,' said the young Khmer woman DJ with a breezy California accent. She might have been in a shopping center in Los Angeles. But she had never been outside of Cambodia. And she was young, broadcasting in English to the generation of Cambodians born after the Khmer Rouge had been defeated. `Time walks fast,' she said again.”
and
“On the 7-dollar ride from the airport, the driver had tuned to an English language station in Phnom Penh. He understood English. The whole country was studying the English language. The bookshops stocked Madonna, An Intimate Biography and John Grisham’s Summons. How to do tapes for Chinese, French, and Japanese were displayed on the shelf. A little more than a generation earlier the Khmer Rouge had been killing anyone who spoke a foreign language or read foreign books. Now the streets were filled with students in their white shirts and black trousers carrying books and dreaming of riches.”
That's a nice portrait of post-war strangeness. How does one capture in words the strangeness of seeing frenzied consumer-fueled optimism in a land that had only recently known the horror of mass murder? How does one mind encompass both? How does one who knows the first look upon the second without experiencing a queasy sense of unreality? Damned if I know, but Moore makes a nice start.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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10 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

I need to read Moore. One of my good friends worked with Cambodian refugees, both here and in Thailand, and through her, I have a kind of second degree exposure to their dilemmas.

April 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Moore has lived in Thailand for many years and writes most often about that country, though this naturally has exposed him to people and events in Cambodia.

He says often that his fiction is all about trying to understand cultures other than one's own. This comes across nicely in the the introduction to this book, I'd say.

April 18, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I happened to visit Thailand at the same time my friend was working in refugee camps along the Thai border. Mostly because of this connection, my preparatory reading included Edmund Keeley's A Wilderness Called Peace, which I thought was very good.

These were the days, of course, when a serious literary novel, midlist, might still be floated out on the world as a mass market paperback.

April 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You can try any of Moore’s novels. For more explicit statements of what he thinks about trying to cross cultural borders, you might try his book The Cultural Detective. I have a nodding acquaintance withthe guy who wrote the introduction.

I'm not sure I knew you had visited Thailand. You'll have to discuss your trip sometime.

April 18, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Watch out for the introduction writer. He may one day try to assume your identity.

I'll try to work the Southeast Asia trip into one of my blogs sometime. But meanwhile, mai pen rai.

April 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll adopt that sentiment. And wai not?

April 18, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

This sounds intriguing, and I almost skipped the post solely because I'm not a fan of the other Christopher Moore (just not my thing) and I read too fast. Glad I did a double-take.

April 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe that's why this Christopher Moore uses his middle initial.

April 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And here's Christopher G. Moore's web site.

April 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

From Christopher G. Moore

Peter, Thanks for directing the spotlight onto Zero Hour in Phnom Penh. Here some background that might be of interest to your readers. In the early 90s I was a correspondent covering the UNTAC deployment to Phnom Penh. I’ve been back to Cambodia many times since. The book was inspired by my time in Phnom Penh during that time. Later this year Phnom Penh Noir will appear. I am the editor of this anthology as well as a contributor (my story is titled Reunion) along with e.g., John Burdett, James Grady, Roland Joffe, and Tim Page—along with Khmer and one Thai author. At the end of last year, I covered the opening of the UN War Crime Tribunal in Phnom Penh. My report of the opening of the trial was carried by The Phnom Penh Post, Evergreen Review (New York City), and CULTurMag (Berlin). In February 2012, the French edition of Zero Hour in Phnom Penh was launched and I was on hand, answering questions at interviews about the book.

Best,
Christopher

April 20, 2012  

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