Friday, October 23, 2015

សូមស្វាគមន៍មកកាន់ប្រទេសកម្ពុជា

I'm off to Cambodia in a few weeks, so first a shout-out to crime writers who live in Southeast Asia, set their novels there, or both: Christopher G. Moore, Tim Hallinan, John Burdett, Colin Cotterill, and others. Those are the writers I know; I hope to meet more when I take a short side trip to Bangkok.

My guidebook to Cambodia includes a list of suggested reading, and two of the fiction titles are or include crime stories. This raises once again that question of why authors find crime fiction a window through which to view a country other than their own.
 
And how is an author to approach a country that has known such terror as Cambodia so recently has? As soon as I booked my trip, I visited my native informant — a Cambodian-born, French-trained baker and pastry maker in South Philadelphia.  Yes, he talked about Khmer Rouge torture techniques, but he also offered acerbic comments on the technological backwardness that opened his native country to exploitation and on the superiority of the British to the French as colonizers. And there was an element of shocked humor to his discussion of Pol Pot, who spoke impeccable French, yet was responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of foreigners as head of the Khmer Rouge. (A Wikipedia article on Pol Pot says he was forced to return to Cambodia after failing his exams three years in a row. So yes, while hallucinogenic, nightmare horror is appropriate to the story of Cambodia after World War II. there's a place for grim comedy, too. How is a writer to handle this?)

And then there's the woman in the bakery — I'm unsure if she was a worker or a customer — who said matter-of-factly that she had lost three relatives to the Khmer Rouge, but also that she wanted to take her children to Cambodia one day so they could see their ancestral country.  How is an author to portray this complexity of attitudes and reactions?  I'll tell you next month.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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20 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

Wow. That sounds exciting. I have been to Thailand and Malaysia but not Cambodia, although when I was in Thailand one of my friends was working in Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand on the border.

I've seen a fair number of mysteries set in Thailand but can't think offhand of any set in Cambodia, unless some of the guys you mention also have some of their stories venture over to that country.

I look forward to hearing more about this journey.

October 23, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

There is some border-crossing in those stories. Tom Hallinan's novel Breathing Water, part of his Poke Rafferty series set in Thailand, features as a character a prominent Khmer Rouge member who has found refuge in that country. It's not hard to figure out why few crime stories have been set in Cambodia, The country's recent history has not been conducive to the kind of leisure needed for writing or the development of a reading population.

I did not know you had been to Southeast Asia. We shall have to compare notes, perhaps in New Orleans.

October 23, 2015  
Anonymous Christopher G. Moore said...

Seana, have a look at Zero Hour in Phnom Penh which is a Calvino novel set in Cambodia during the UNTAC period (early 90s). The novel draws upon material I found working as a journalist covering the political transition. Phnom Penh Noir is anthology I edited and contains stories set in Cambodia including one by Roland Joffe, John Burdett,and several new voices from Cambodia.

I am looking forward to seeing you, Peter, in Bangkok next month. The Bangkok crime fiction community is on alert and looking forward to meeting you.

October 24, 2015  
Blogger Unknown said...

Suggested additions to Peter’s reading, listening and viewing list for his trip to Cambodia:

A great perspective on contemporary literary and artistic life in Cambodia: http://thelifedesigndetective.com/cambodia-calling/

Recent novels set in Cambodia

Lawrence Osborne, Hunters in the Dark
Andrew Nett: Ghost Money
Tom Vater: The Cambodian Book of the Dead:
Steven W. Palmer: Angkor Away
John Burgess: A Woman of Angkor

Music

Christopher Minko: for the sound of Cambodian noir: https://krom1.bandcamp.com

Paintings

Chris Coles: for noir painting set in Phnom Penh and Bangkok. http://www.phnompenhpost.com/lifestyle/night-vision-gives-view-southeast-asian-noir

Peter Klashorst: http://www.peter-klashorst.com

October 24, 2015  
Anonymous Christopher G. Moore said...

Suggested additions to Peter’s reading, listening and viewing list for his trip to Cambodia:

A great perspective on contemporary literary and artistic life in Cambodia: http://thelifedesigndetective.com/cambodia-calling/

Recent novels set in Cambodia

Lawrence Osborne, Hunters in the Dark
Andrew Nett: Ghost Money
Tom Vater: The Cambodian Book of the Dead:
Steven W. Palmer: Angkor Away
John Burgess: A Woman of Angkor

Music

Christopher Minko: for the sound of Cambodian noir: https://krom1.bandcamp.com

Paintings

Chris Coles: for noir painting set in Phnom Penh and Bangkok. http://www.phnompenhpost.com/lifestyle/night-vision-gives-view-southeast-asian-noir

Peter Klashorst: http://www.peter-klashorst.com

October 24, 2015  
Anonymous Book Dilettante said...

Not criminal fiction, but a memoir _ Vaddey Ratner's memoir of escape from the Khmer Rouge, In the Shadow of the Banyan. She is a member of the Cambodian royalty. Recommend the book for your trip.

October 24, 2015  
Anonymous Tom Vater said...

Hi Peter,

I read your post with interest and was referred to you by Christopher Moore.

I am a Bangkok based crime fiction writer but I also write guidebooks (including the Moon guides to Angkor and Cambodia), non fiction books, docu-screenplays and journalism.
I am also the co-owner of Crime Wave Press, Asia's only English Language crime fiction publisher (www.crimewavepress.com). We publish several titles on Cambodia, including Andrew Nette's Ghost Money.

Finally I am the author of the Detective Maier Mysteries which were published in 2013 and 2014 by Exhibit A, an imprint of Angry Robot, in turn an offspring of Osprey which has since gone out of business. Both titles The Cambodian Book of the Dead and The Man with the Golden Mind was set in Laos did well in the US. I am just finishing up the third in the series, The Monsoon Ghost Image which is set in Thailand.

I look forward to connecting with you in Bangkok in November. In the meantime, my blog is www.tomvater.com and if you need more info on Cambodia, Thailand or Laos you can find me here: tomvater at yahoo.com

Best wishes,

Tom

October 24, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Christopher G.: This is supposed to be a vacation, and I'm cramming harder than I ever used to for tests in school. But history and crime fiction. What could be better?

October 24, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Unknown: Thanks. I have an old record of Cambodian vocal music that I'll have to dig up. And that Tom Vater must be quite a fellow. He also wrote the guidebook to the Angkor Wat area and Phnom Penh that I bought. I'm reading David Chandler's history of Cambodia now, and I have Ben Kiernan's book on the Pol Pot regime lined up.

October 24, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Book Dilettante: Thanks. I may wind up saving some of this reading for after my return, which is when I often do my travel reading.

October 24, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

Thanks for the book recs everyone. That will keep me busy for awhile.

Peter, Tom Vater actually posted in here, as it showed up on my email, but it seems to have gotten lost. I will forward it to you in case it never appears.

October 24, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Seana, and here is Tom's post:

Hi Peter,

I read your post with interest and was referred to you by Christopher Moore.

I am a Bangkok based crime fiction writer but I also write guidebooks
(including the Moon guides to Angkor and Cambodia), non fiction books,
docu-screenplays and journalism.
I am also the co-owner of Crime Wave Press, Asia's only English Language
crime fiction publisher (www.crimewavepress.com). We publish several titles
on Cambodia, including Andrew Nette's Ghost Money.

Finally I am the author of the Detective Maier Mysteries which were
published in 2013 and 2014 by Exhibit A, an imprint of Angry Robot, in turn
an offspring of Osprey which has since gone out of business. Both titles
The Cambodian Book of the Dead and The Man with the Golden Mind was set in
Laos did well in the US. I am just finishing up the third in the series,
The Monsoon Ghost Image which is set in Thailand.

I look forward to connecting with you in Bangkok in November. In the
meantime, my blog is www.tomvater.com and if you need more info on
Cambodia, Thailand or Laos you can find me here: tomvater at yahoo.com

Best wishes,

Tom

October 24, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Tom: Thanks for the comment, which reach me through the kind offices of a friend who had commented above. For some reason, the comment did not appear here, though she received e-mail notification of it. You should know that the oon Guide to Angkor Wat and vicinity is the one I've been reading, and I have found it satisfactory thus far. I used it as a basis for planning my visits to the temples, and I also chose a guesthouse from it listing.

Does the name Sam Sophea mean anything to you? I'll spend three days touring Angkor Wat and environs with one of his guides.

October 24, 2015  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

Bon voyage, Peter. Do you need vaccinations.... are there mosquitos...? World travel scares me a bit.

October 24, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Let's try this again:

I got my tetanus and hepatitis A shots last week. And thanks!

October 25, 2015  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I can give you 3 pieces of advice and they are all donts.

Dont visit The Killing Fields memorial out in the paddies as its just unbearably depressing. Dont visit that torture centre that people urge one to go to in Phnom Penh as that is also really bad for the soul. And finally dont listen to those kids in the market who offer to take you into the bush to shoot AK47's and throw hand grenades. Chances are you'll be fine but if anything goes wrong you'll be in the middle of nowhere with your hand blown off and the kids will take off in the Tuk Tuk leaving you to bleed to death.

October 25, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The only one of those I'd consider doing is visiting S-21. And yes, I did remember your skittishness about visiting, I think, Auschwitz.

October 26, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The things I have set up or planned are all do's: tours to Angkor Wat and its environs and a visit to the National Museum in Phnom Penh.

October 26, 2015  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Yes S21 thats the place. Dont go. If like me you're susceptible to insomnia and nightmares you will have insomnia and nightmares.

October 26, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not susceptible to nightmares, but I'm not sure I want to court then, either. I am, on the other hand, reading a biography of Pol Pot and a history of his regime. The later is by Ben Kiernan, Australian but living and working here, whose daughter used to work at the Pen & Pencil Club.

I had a chat about my trip with two Cambodians of my acquaintance here. They were forthcoming in their assessment of the Khmer Rouge and of the failings of their country that preceded it, but noncommital on the subject of S-21.

October 26, 2015  

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