Romantic Fiction Novel Makes Cambodia’s Troubled History An Easy Read
AKP Phnom Penh, January 13, 2021 --
Launched in a new edition on Jan. 7, 2021, Ek Tha’s Find The Enemy, Find Love, is on its surface, a charming story of unlikely love and trust in a time of war. It has a deeper purpose – to explain, in an accessible way, a painful part of Cambodia’s history that is fading from popular consciousness as those who directly experienced it pass away.
(The author provides the book on Jan. 12 January 2021 to H.E. Khieu Kanharith, Information Minister, at the Ministry)
The canvas on which the novel’s story is painted is familiar: The Vietnam conflict is over, after collapsing into civil war Cambodia is now ruled by the notorious Pol Pot and his UN-recognised genocidal regime. Volunteers from Vietnam and Cambodia survivors are determined to bring an end to Cambodia’s nightmare.
Nguyen Van Hung, born in what was South Vietnam, and whose parents had supported U.S. forces during that war, hears radio broadcasts talking of atrocities against Cambodian children and appealing for volunteers to save them. Hung’s mother, a war-widow, fears also losing her son in combat but he insists on becoming a volunteer.
Hung fights his enemy, the Khmer Rouge, on the Cambodian border with Vietnam. Becoming an intelligence officer, Hung carries out covert surveillance of the Khmer Rouge but in the process becomes hopelessly lost in the thick Cambodian forest.
It is there that he spots, and falls in love with Reach Bopha-Ek, the daughter of Khmer Rouge cadres. Desperate, he surrenders himself to her. Eventually, she accepts and returns his love, albeit not without her putting him through trials. For more than three years, Hung and Bopha-Ek stay together in the forest.
Ek Tha, also known as Ek Madra, firmly steps away from a ‘horrors of war’ narrative and the pornography of atrocities. His focus is on the human, cultural elements and the love that survives, these are the anchor points in a world gone mad.
In an appropriately naïf style the author gets inside the skin of his characters enabling us to see events through their eyes, the challenges and conflicts of the ordinary man, and the influence of history and culture that give hope for peace overcoming hatred – our similarities overcoming out differences.
Firmly founded on the author’s interviews and personal knowledge of former Vietnamese soldiers and Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide who joined with them to drive out the Pol Pot regime, Ek Tha paints his characters with passion and fondness.
Yet the novel has a series purpose, to lay out the history of the time and the cultures of those involved, and their similarities rather than differences. It is a book with a learning curve for a younger generation with no direct experience of those times.
(The author at the book launch event on Thursday Jan. 7, 2021 at the Meta House 47, St. 178 (German Cambodian Cultural Centre), just a short walk to the North of the National Museum, Phnom Penh.
It is the story of how war cannot fight love, that only joining hands with determination can bring the peace that the barrel of a gun cannot.
It is an important work, with an equally important message, by a scholar who knows the milieu intimately, told in an accessible way that dry history books cannot achieve, with passion, insight and observation.
Very highly recommended.
( Mr. Bob Couttie is a novelist, screenwriter and author of several history books who shares his time between Cambodia and the Philippines).