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