Monday, October 26, 2015

Cambodia, crime, and history

Andrew Nette (right) with your humble blogkeeper
at Philadelphia's Noircon convention in 2014
I've been so immersed in such a welter of Cambodian history and crime fiction that I can't remember just which book is the basis for each of the following observations.

First, the books on which the observations are based:
1) Phnom Penh Noir, edited by Christopher G. Moore
2) A History of Cambodia, by David Chandler
3)  Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, by Philip Short
4) Ghost Money, by Andrew Nette
5) The Pol Pot Regime, by Ben Kiernan

For one, at least two of the stories appear to include allusions, conscious or otherwise, to Casablanca. This makes sense; Casablanca was a refuge or a last stop for dubious sorts with agendas of their own from all over the world. So was Phnom Penh after Vietnam ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979. Among the dubious sorts in Phnom Penh, living high amid the local squalor, were workers from non-governmental aid organizations. This is the heart of the first story in Phnom Penh Noir, by Roland Joffé. who directed The Killing Fields.

Second, orientation by landmark is less frequent than I expected in the stories set in Cambodia and written by foreigners, but it is nonetheless present. Without descending into travelogism, the stories will situate places in the story by their relation to major landmarks in a way I suspect native writers would not.

Third, the mutual enmity of Cambodians and Vietnamese, whose best-known manifestation in recent decades is probably Vietnam's 1979 invasion, may have its roots in conflict of countries that fell under the sway of Asia's two great ancient civilizations of India (Cambodia) and China (Vietnam).

Finally, to scramble the notions of native and foreigner, came "Broken Chains," a selection of rap poetry interspersed with biographical snippets in Phnom Penh Noir by Kosal Khiev, born in a Thai refugee camp, migrated to the United States as an infant, convicted of attempted murder, jailed for 14 years, then deported to Cambodia. Where does he belong?

While you ponder that question, here's Andrew Nette on Phnom Penh Noir and writing noir in Asia

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Anonymous christopher g. moore said...

Peter, also put on your reading list Christopher Koch's Highways to War, and Francois Bizot's The Gate. Both are brilliantly written by authors who were on the ground and experienced the Khmer Rouge up close and personal.

October 27, 2015  
Blogger R.T. said...

I think Asia is the perfect setting for noir crime because of its exotic qualities (to western readers). In the crime fiction trope, the hero (detective) goes on a quest (mission to solve crime) in hostile environment and encounters evil, which must be confronted and defeated; to many westerners, Asia fulfills the "hostile environment" requirement. What say you?

October 27, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

CGM: The one title I neglected to include was your own Zero Hour in Phnom Penh. I suspect I'll have to leave some of this expanding reading list until after the trip, though.

October 27, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I say that your proposal, especially with the qualification "to western readers," makes sense and probably would to many writers of crime fiction set in Asia as well, with the qualification that the environment can be fascinating and beautiful as well as hostile. How to combine the two must be a great challenge for writers who set crime fiction in Asia.

October 27, 2015  
Anonymous Christopher G. Moore said...

The noir writing community is looking forward to meeting you, Peter. While in Bangkok, you'll have a chance to explore the back alley where the profane and sacred meet.

October 28, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

After I explore the room where the beer and the meat meet, I hope. I look forward to sitting down for a good chin wag with you folks.

October 28, 2015  

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