HOT OFF THE PRESS
A look on the Cambodia bookshelves
Perhaps the most awaited book of 2010 is my own, To Cambodia With Love! Well, I would say that wouldn't I. It should be out in bookshops and Amazon.com around June time. More when I get the first copy in my hands. Beyond The Apsara is a book that tells the current story of Cambodian dance and includes interviews with 25 dancers. It came out at the very back end of 2009. An excellently written survivor memoir is Denise Affonco's To the End of Hell, whilst Sambath Meas' The Immortal Seeds, is also worth looking out for. A novel that has gained much acclaim is Kim Echlin's The Disappeared whilst I also recommend James Rollins' novel The Judas Strain. Another book on Cambodian dance is Denise Heywood's Cambodian Dance: Celebration of the Gods and is a definite 'must buy' in my opinion. Opening up the new titles for 2008 was Benny Widyono's self-penned memoir, which laid bare the inside story of the UNTAC period in early 90s Cambodia. Dancing In Shadows: Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge and the United Nations in Cambodia untangles the battles and agendas of all parties involved during that remarkable period in its 280 pages. Sichan Siv's Golden Bones is a fascinating read. Cambodia-born Sichan was the USA's Ambassador to the United Nations and his story is one to savour. Currently being written is Tim Patterson's The Lost Coast of Cambodia. Three books released at the end of 2007 have just found their way into my possession. They are Somaly Mam's English-language version of her incredible memoir, The Road To Lost Innocence, a must-read book for everyone. Navy Phim's Reflections of A Khmer Soul tells of her journey from Cambodia to Long Beach, whilst Roland Neveu's photographic record of the Khmer Rouge in The Fall of Phnom Penh is well worth getting hold of.
My favourite book release of 2007 was Kari Grady Grossman's Bones That Float, and the heartfelt story of her love for Cambodia and adoption of her son. Two more books to add to my collection are Sam Sotha's memoir In The Shade of A Quiet Killing Place and the Reyum Institute's Wat Painting in Cambodia, detailing the art to be found in the country's pagodas. Two publications about Cambodia's women, Trudy Jacobsen's Lost Goddesses and Mona Lilja's Power, Resistance & Women Politicians in Cambodia have been published by the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. Recently published in paperback is Bun T Lim's Surviving Cambodia, The Khmer Rouge Regime, the story of Bunthong's trials and tribulations under Pol Pot and his eventual escape to America; 196 pages and produced by Trafford Publishing. On The Road To Angkor is a 209-page exploration of Buddhism found along the ancient Royal Road of the old Khmer Empire by Margret Hargreaves-Allen, published by iUniverse in March. Troubled Relations: The United States and Cambodia since 1870 by Kenton Clymer is a revised history of the American-Cambodian relationship, published by Nothern Illinois University Press (266 pages). Anne Ruth Hansen's How To Behave: Buddhism and Modernity in Colonial Cambodia 1860-1930, by University of Hawaii Press, breaks new ground in understanding the history and development of religion in SEAsia. Sokreaksa Himm's second book is After The Heavy Rain. An in-depth look at the genocide in Cambodia and East Timor is at the heart of Ben Kiernan's new book, Genocide and Resistance in Southeast Asia: Documentation, Denial and Justice. Finally, a new travelguide to add to the Lonely Planet stable is Nick Ray's combo, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and the Greater Mekong, published in September (524 pages).
At the back-end of 2006, Building Cambodia - New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970 by Helen Grant Ross and Darryl Collins, was published and described the flowering of Khmer architectural genius, whilst Routledge Publishing brought out 3 books, namely Gregor Muller's Colonial Cambodia's 'Bad Frenchmen' : The rise of French rule and the life of Thomas Caraman, 1840-87; Expressions of Cambodia: The politics of tradition, identity and change is a series of articles, edited by Leakthina Chau-Pech Ollier and Tim Winter; and Conflict and Change in Cambodia, by editor Caroline Hughes. Eric de Vries' Images of Cambodia is a book of 150 photographs showing the author's love of Cambodia, published by Cleartrails.
2006 turned out to be a year of abundance as far as the publication of new books on Cambodia was concerned. I was sent a pre-release copy of Geoff Ryman's novel, The King's Last Song, entwining the glories of the Angkor dynasty with modern-day Cambodia, and it was a brilliant read, so make sure you get a copy. At the start of the year, I met author Vittorio Roveda in Siem Reap, renowned for his books interpreting Khmer mythology and he gave me a copy of his very latest publication, Images of the Gods, an encyclopedic tome, surveying the motifs and messages recorded in the Khmer temples across Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. It has over 2,400 colour images and is meticulous in defining the sculptural reliefs of the Hindu and Buddhist myths and legends. My thanks to Vittorio for the gift - I've already found it invaluable in helping to understand the visual art I encounter on my temple-hunting expeditions. Dawn Rooney also saw an end of year release for the updated 5th edition of her popular Angkor book and is currently working with Bonnie Baskin on a book on the history of Cambodian ceramics.
Oni Vitandham's On The Wings Of A White Horse came out in April 2006. It's her personal account of hardship and survival in Cambodia and on the streets of America. An inspiring book - you can read more here. Also well worth getting hold of a copy is Marilia Albanese's The Treasures of Angkor, a compact and beautifully produced temple guidebook. Masterpieces of The National Museum of Cambodia by Helen Jessup has just come out, whilst Bringing the Khmer Rouge to Justice by Beth Van Schaack & Jaya Ramji is due for release soon. Two new publications are Tonle Sap: The Heart of Cambodia's Natural Heritage, by Colin Poole and Eleanor Briggs which comes from the Thames & Hudson stable, whilst the 4th edition of the Footprint Cambodia Guide is also out. A useful guide I've been expecting for a few years now, Culture Shock! Cambodia, by Peter North, has finally hit the bookshelves, whilst River Books will publish Cambodian Dance: Celebration of the Gods by Denise Heywood sometime in 2007. I've been sent copies of two more titles; John Tully's A Short History of Cambodia by Allen & Unwin and Willa Schneberg's book of poems called Storytelling In Cambodia, whilst Brenda Sloggett's Jewels of Cambodia is out soon.
In the last quarter of 2005, two new books came to my attention containing vivid memoirs and personal accounts of life under the Khmer Rouge. Vatey Seng's The Price We Paid and Leaving Year Zero: Stories of Surviving Pol Pot's Cambodia are on a similar theme. Seng's book, published by iUniverse tells of the author's life in Cambodia until her escape to America in 1982. Richard Lunn is the author of Leaving Year Zero, published by the University of Western Australia Press, which follows the lives of six Cambodian refugees who settled in Australia. Exploring and explaining Buddhism during a year he spent in Cambodia, is the basis of a new book from Stephen T Asma called The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha. The memoirs of Dr Louis Braile, who worked in the Thai-Cambodian border camps between 1981-1993 form the content of We Shared the Peeled Orange, published by Syren Books and the American Refugee Committee in October 2004. The 5th edition of the excellent Lonely Planet Cambodia guidebook, by author Nick Ray, was published in August 2005. A month later, a haunting memoir of life under the Khmer Rouge, Theary C Seng's Daughter of the Killing Fields, was released by Fusion Press and you can read more here. The memoirs of celebrated poet U Sam Oeur are told in his new book, written with Ken McCullough, called Crossing Three Wildernesses and published by Coffee House Press. American war veteran Phil Karber's personal jouney through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam is told in The Indochina Chronicles - read more here.
The early months of 2005 were blessed with some invaluable publications that provided further insight into the Cambodian experience of the last thirty years, not least the second memoir from Loung Ung, titled Lucky Child and published by Harper Collins. A March release by genocide and Khmer Rouge expert Craig Etcheson, is After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide, who has at least another two books up his sleeve including one focusing on the politics of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Peter Maguire's interviews with victims and perpetrators forms the basis of Facing Death in Cambodia, published by Columbia University Press. Karen Coates, a former copy editor with The Cambodia Daily newspaper, has brought out a brilliant new book on contemporary Cambodian life, examining the country's past, present and future in Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War. You can keep up to date with her writings here. June 2005 saw the publication of The Lost Executioner: A Story of the Khmer Rouge by Nic Dunlop and the intriguing story behind the unmasking of the former S-21 chief, Comrade Duch. Ken Finn's journey to find the spirit trees of Cambodia takes him further into the problems facing the country's disappearing forests in My Journey with a Remarkable Tree. And I'm really pleased to have been sent a copy of Merrily Hansen's book entitled Khmer Costumes and Ornaments: Of the Devatas of Angkor Wat by the publishers Orchid Press. Merrily is a good friend of mine and has translated the words of Sappho Marchal, the daughter of the renowned French conservator of Angkor, Henri Marchal, into English from its original French, when it was published in 1927. It documents in incredible detail the 1,800+ devatas (or apsaras) that adorn Angkor Wat.
Pride of place on my bookshelf goes to a copy of To Asia With Love: A Connoisseurs' Guide to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand & Vietnam, edited by Kim Fay and published by Things Asian Press in September 2004. Fifty seasoned travellers, including myself, offer personal stories and insider advice on food, sightseeing and the love of being in Southeast Asia. 250 pages and photos by Julie Fay, it unites people with a common thread - their love of the region. Watch out for separate books on individual countries sometime soon! Kim Fay has also just completed her first novel, based in Cambodia and called In Yellow Babylon. The University of Hawaii Press has published under the Manoa series banner, an important collection of contemporary literature from Cambodian writers and poets titled In the Shadow of Angkor. Editors Frank Stewart and Sharon May have included contributions from Loung Ung, Rithy Panh, Ronnie Yimsut and many more, together with photographs by Richard Murai. Also new from the University of Hawaii stable is History, Buddhism and New Religious Movements in Cambodia, edited by John Marston and Elizabeth Guthrie. An artbook for the connoisseur is Emma Bunker & Douglas Latchford's Adoration & Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art, published by Paragon Asia and containing 300 colour illustrations within its 520 pages. UNESCO commissioned Jaroslav Poncar's Angkor: A Photographic Portrait, with text by John Keay.
2004 saw a host of new books published on Cambodia including a new Thames & Hudson publication, Art & Architecture of Cambodia by Helen Jessup. This 224 page paperback with 195 illustrations came out in March and sits alongside T&H's Khmer: Lost Empire of Cambodia and Angkor: Heart of an Asian Empire. In February another book by David Snellgrove came out of the Orchid Press stable. Following his 2001 book, Khmer Civilization and Angkor, this is a 256 page edition titled, Angkor Before & After: A Cultural History of the Khmers. Loung Ung has returned to America after spending time in Cambodia adding the finishing touches to her manuscript for her second book, the title of which is Lucky Child. Ms Ung depicts her own life in America and contrasts that with the life of her elder sister who remained in Cambodia, as a follow up to her incredible memoir, First they Killed My Father. Harper Collins published it in April 2005. Ms Ung's first book, as well as David Chandler's A History of Cambodia, have both been translated into Khmer and are available as part of the Cambodian school curriculum these days.
Titles above (left to right): Concentrating on Cambodia's more recent past, Philip Short's 608 page in-depth portrait of the Khmer Rouge leader entitled, Pol Pot: Anatomy Of A Nightmare, was released in the UK in February 2005. Henry Holt are the publishers, with Short already having a biography of Mao to his credit. Tom Fawthrop and Helen Jarvis have combined to produce a 320 page book, released in November 2004, called Getting Away with Genocide? Elusive Justice and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, by Pluto Press. Alexander Hinton publishes Why Did They Kill? Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide, a 382 page University of California release in December. Analysing the loss of the Khmer heritage, Masha Lafont's Pillaging Cambodia: The Illicit Traffic in Khmer Art was published in October. Recalling her personal experiences in Cambodia is author Lydia Laube, who tells her story in Temples & Tuk Tuks: Travels in Cambodia, released by Wakefield Press in September.
Scheduled for a 2005 release were Ian Harris' painstakingly researched, Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice and Mary Kay Magistad's study of the social aftermath of the Khmer Rouge period, Pol Pot's Shadow. And one of those rarities, a novel set in Cambodia, is already on the bookshelves from Jeff Long, titled The Reckoning, a thriller turned supernatural tale. A tale of backpacking through SouthEast Asia by Parry Loeffler has been published, including his time in Cambodia, under the title, Rice Crust From The Bottom Of The Pot. Meanwhile, Margaret Slocomb has published an in-depth review of life in Cambodia after Pol Pot in The People's Republic of Kampuchea 1979-1989 by Silkworm Books.
Michael Freeman's 224 page paperback, titled Cambodia, was released in March 2004. Renowned worldwide for his incredible photography, Freeman examines the country's present troubled situation in light of its political and cultural history including the psychological effects of the Pol Pot era and how Angkor Wat has become an icon and symol for its tourist and heritage industry. Of course, an invaluable addition to the collection of guidebooks based on Angkor is Ancient Angkor by River Books of Bangkok and is a collaboration between Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques. It contains detailed plans, descriptions and photographs of the main sites and also includes smaller but interesting temples not covered in other books. The 2003 updated publication of this superb glossy guide contains a recommendation to visit my own Cambodia Tales website. My compliments to Mr Freeman on his good taste! Also look out for his 2003 pocket guide called Angkor Icon, released by River Books. 96 pages with over 100 colour photos.
Here's a heart-warming 'book story' from Cambodia. Fred Lipp, the author of the illustrated children's storybook, The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh tells me that in June, an international, French-run NGO, SIPAR, printed a translation of his book into Khmer. With a first run of 10,000 copies, the idea is to get the book into the hands of children and it was launched at the Friends restaurant in Phnom Penh with 200 street children and directors of NGOs, educators and teachers. The book was acted out on stage with television, radio and press present in a concert-like atmosphere. It was subsequently taken to remote regions of Cambodia and distributed and is now available everywhere from the airport bookstore to the local news-stand. There are also plans to translate it into French by another local NGO that creates reading rooms. Lipp, who is the president of the charity, The Cambodian Arts and Scholarship Foundation, has two more children's books in the works, Running Shoes and Mud Truck.
Rounding-up some of the books that became available in 2003, I'll start with Jon Ortner's impressive Angkor: Celestial Temples of the Khmer Empire. Ortner is a first-class photographer and with text written by Ian Mabbett, Eleanor Mannikka, John Sanday and James Goodman, this richly designed coffee-table book (289 pages) will cost you a fair few dollars. It's released by Abbeville Press. I met Jon when he was taking photos for the book, on top of Phnom Kulen and in front of Angkor Wat, and not only is he a superb snapper, he's a real gent as well. Another book just out from the Ortner stable is Buddha, with 155 photos on 240 pages from his travels around SEAsia, including Angkor Wat. Yale University's Michael D Coe has released a cultural history of Cambodia up to 1863, which is lavishly illustrated with maps, plans, drawings and photos and called, Angkor and the Khmer Civilization. Its a Thames & Hudson publication, so you know it'll be a good one. I was very pleased to see a namecheck for Cambodia Tales in the 2003 SouthEast Asia - the Graphic Guide by Mark Elliott, as well as the revised Laos & Cambodia Discovery Insight Guide. A scholarly and comprehensive guide to Cambodia's temples was published in May 2003 by Jean Laur, a former Director of Angkor's Monuments in the late fifties. His Angkor: An Illustrated Guide to the Monuments is a 392 page publication with 150 colour and 200 black and white illustrations, alongwith 78 maps.
One of the best books I've ever read about Cambodia is Haing Ngor's biography, Survival in the Killing Fields. Written with Roger Warner, it was published again in November 2003 in paperback and is a must for anyone who hasn't read it. Gripping, heart-breaking and absolutely fascinating are just a few deserving words to describe this book. Its all the more poignant following Haing Ngor's untimely death. Ignore this book at your peril. A colourful book I saw on a recent visit to Cambodia but didn't buy was Cambodia & Angkor: A travel sketch-book by Damien Chavanat, Elise and Justin Creedy Smith. Luckily a friend saw it for sale in a second-hand bookshop and bought it for me. Also keep an eye open for Remembering Cambodia, a book of photographs by Robert Elliott and Stefan Smith. The doyen of Cambodian travel writers, Ray Zepp, who is now working in Uganda, has written a book, Experiencing Cambodia, copies of which can be found in Phnom Penh at the Last Home guesthouse. While you are there, try and pick up copies of his numerous books about his travels throughout Cambodia. They are essential reading.
DC-Cam, the Documentation Center of Cambodia, located in a house overlooking the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh, is doing a fantastic job of providing the world with detailed information on the Khmer Rouge years. As well as issuing a quartely magazine called Searching for the Truth, they are publishing some interesting book titles, written by Cambodian authors with high quality production values. They are available in Cambodian bookstores, though DC-Cam has no international distribution deal at present. So far, they've published such titles as Victims and Perpetrators? Testimony of Young Khmer Rouge Cadres (2001) by Meng-Try Ea and Sorya Sim, Oukoubah: Justice for the Cham Muslims under the Democratic Kampuchea Regime (2002) by Ysa Osman and in 2003, The Khmer Rouge Division 703: From Victory to Self-Destruction by Huy Vannak. They have released several more titles recently, that include Stilled Lives: Photographs from the Cambodian Genocide (2004) by Wynne Cougill, The Chain of Terror (2005) by Meng-Try Ea, Winds From The West by Sara Colm and Sorya Sim and The Cham Rebellion by Osman Ysa. In addition they are also providing a translation service, having recently published Khmer-language versions of both of Loung Ung's books, Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and David Chandler's Voices from S-21. They have quite a few more lined-up in this series, one of which will be Ronnie Yimsut's memoirs (Journey Into Light), which have not been published previously. To visit the DC-Cam website for more details, click here. Recently re-published by DC-Cam was Seven Candidates for Prosecution: Accountability for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge by Steve Heder and Brian Tittemore. Leading Cambodia scholar Steve Heder has also written, and published by White Lotus Press, Cambodian Communism and the Vietnamese Model: Imitation and Independence 1930-1975.
If you know of any forthcoming publications, drop me a line. If you are a publisher, send me a copy of your new book and I'll gladly review it. Go here to read some reviews. For a Cambodia bibliography, click here.
More books and stuff...
Many people will not have heard of Geraldine Cox. An Australian in her mid-50s, Ms Cox went to Cambodia for the first time in 1970 on a posting with the Australian Foreign Affairs Ministry and now devotes her time between fundraising and running the Sunrise Children's Village Orphanage just outside Phnom Penh. She co-founded the orphanage in 1993 and it now looks after the welfare of up to 70+ children of varying ages. Ms Cox, the subject of a documentary, 'My Khmer Heart,' that won the top documentary honours at the Hollywood Film Festival, has published her first book, an entertaining, humourous, challenging, tragic and heart-warming read entitled, Home is Where the Heart is. The book has been published by Pan Macmillan in Australia (contact: email@example.com). It's a cracking good read and tells the story, warts 'n' all, of an extraordinary woman. Her life story is scheduled to be turned into a major motion picture sometime in the future. For more information about the orphanage, click here.
Bookshelves are beginning to groan under the weight of books on Cambodia, not least with a masterly volume from the leading scholar on Cambodian history, David P Chandler. Author of AHistory of Cambodia, The Tragedy of Cambodian History and Brother Number One amongst others, his latest book, Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison, was published in January 2000 by University of California Press. As Dr. Chandler explained to HOTP; "It's the first in-depth study of the archive from S-21 (also known as Tuol Sleng), the infamous interrogation center, now a museum of genocidal crime, that operated in Phnom Penh between May 1976 and January 1979. Over that period at least 14,000 men, women and children were incarcerated there. Most of them were interrogated and accused of committing counter revolutionary crimes; many of them severely tortured, all of them killed, except for a handful of survivors. In writing the book, I drew on many materials that have come to light in Phnom Penh since 1996, as well as 210 reels of microfilmed materials discovered earlier. I also interviewed four former employees at the prison and several survivors. The six chapters of the book are entitled: Discovering S-21; S-21: A Total Institution; Choosing the Enemies; Framing the Questions; Forcing the Answers; Explaining S-21. The last chapter attempts to answer the question: why do people do things like this to each other?" The book is an indispensable addition for all Cambodia watchers. On a personal note, a namecheck in the book's Preface was a very pleasant surprise. Dr. Chandler is currently writing a new book on Cambodia State and Society and enjoying semi-retirement in Australia.
Personal accounts of life under the Khmer Rouge have spawned the following books in the last few years. Now living in Australia, Vannary Imam's book, When Elephants Fight: A Memoir. A Cambodian Family's Survival in the Face of Murderous Intent was published in June 2000 and is the story of three generations of a Khmer family struggling to survive. In January 2000, Loung Ung's compelling story of her childhood under the Khmer Rouge came out. First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers earned rave reviews for Ung, a refugee who escaped from Cambodia in 1980 and now lectures as the national spokesperson for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation landmine campaign. Ms Ung has now written her second book based on her life in America, and her sister's life in Cambodia and Lucky Child was released in April 2005. Three more vivid tales of life under the Khmer Rouge were published in 2000. In April, Bree Lafreniere described the survival of Daran Kravanh in Music Through the Dark: A Tale of Survival in Cambodia. His talent for playing the accordian kept Kravanh alive whilst those around him perished. In the same month, Chanrithy Him's tear-jerking When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge was published and the paperback version was released in April 2001. June 2000 saw the publication of another testimony, this time by Adam Fifield entitled A Blessing Over Ashes: The Remarkable Odyssey of My Unlikely Brother.
Collecting old English language books on Cambodia is a mini-hobby of mine, from which I derive a lot of pleasure. I don't operate an open chequebook but if I spot a bargain or one of the what I regard as 'top drawer' historical books relating to Cambodia, then I'm interested. Some of my purchases over the past year have included the first editions of the following:- Helen Churchill Candee's Angkor The Magnificent (1924); Robert J Casey's 1929 Four Faces of Siva: The Detective Story of a Vanished Race; Cambodian Glory (1936) by H W Ponder; Osbert Sitwell's Escape With Me! An Oriental Sketch-book (1939); a signed copy of Larry Briggs' A Pilgrimage to Angkor (1943); Angkor by Sir Malcolm MacDonald (1959), Henri Parmentier's Guide to Angkor (1960); John Audric's 1972 Angkor and the Khmer Empire and a few coffee table-sized volumes including The Arts & Civilization of Angkor by Bernard Groslier and Jacques Arthaud (1957); The Temples of Angkor: Monuments to a Vanished Empire by Miloslav Krasa and Jan Cifra (1963); and Monuments of Civilization: Ancient Cambodia (1978). One of the authors that I was keen to get hold of was Christopher Pym, and in the space of a few days I managed to obtain his three books, Mistapim in Cambodia (1960), The Road to Angkor (1959) and The Ancient Civilization of Angkor (1968), alongwith Maslyn Williams' The Land in Between (1969).
An interview with leading Cambodia author, Dawn Rooney
Any serious visitor to Angkor will have in their possession a copy of Dawn Rooney's indispensable guide, Angkor : An Introduction to the Temples. That almost goes without saying. The guidebook, first published in 1994 and regularly re-published, is a first-rate read and Dr. Rooney's enthusiasm for her specialist subject shines through. It examines in depth the historical, religious and architectural background of the Angkor site and covers 30 of the most significant temples in great detail. An internationally recognised expert in her field, the author has a doctorate in Art History and is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Asiatic Society. She has published more than half a dozen books and numerous articles on Asian art. In June 1999 Dr. Rooney returned from a fact-finding trip to Angkor and kindly agreed to answer a few questions for HOTP:-
How did your interest in Angkor and Cambodia begin? What changes have you noticed since your first visit? "My initial interest in Angkor was unplanned and unexpected. My husband was working in Thailand with an American bank and we had to leave the country every 90 days to renew our visas. On previous exits we had been to every neighbouring country except Cambodia. In February 1970 we flew on Air France from Bangkok to Siem Reap (and the flight pattern circled Angkor Wat on the way to SR). We went for three days and stayed a week. The ancient ruins simply captivated both of us. And Angkor is where my love for all Southeast Asian art began. Since my first visit I have been to Angkor 32 times. The amazing point about Angkor in 1970 and Angkor in 1999 is not the differences but the similarities. Little has changed. Yes, some of the sculpture is no longer in situ but it is not significantly different. The sites are still in reasonable condition, still accessible, and look much the same as in 1970. I've compared photographs from the two periods and it is the similarities that stand out. In Siem Reap, the Grand Hotel and the Palace are landmarks today just as they were in 1970. The tourist market, near the Ta Prohm hotel, was a real market used by the local people. The river was less silted and of course the town was simply more sleepy, fewer hotels, restaurants, etc."
Is a 3rd edition of your book being prepared and when can we expect its publication? What additional temples can you include in the next edition? Do you have a favourite temple, and why? "A third edition is under discussion. If the publisher and I reach an agreement on terms the book will be out at the end of August. I have quite a few sites I want to include in the next edition but this is one of the points under discussion with the publisher who wants as little change as possible to save money and to expedite the publication process. My favourite temple is the Bayon. Although Angkor Wat is more challenging in terms of sorting out the iconography I find that the reliefs of the Bayon are closer to my heart because, looking at them, I can, at least for a while, feel the pulse beat of the people and experience daily life in the 13th century. It's the feeling of being part of the Royal City of Angkor Thom 700 years ago that moves me. Then on the upper level I can spend endless hours amongst the ever-changing lighting on the faces. I try to go as many times as possible on each visit, from sunrise to moonlight, just to see the different shadows and to contemplate the meaning of those powerful faces - both to the people of the period and us today."
Have you travelled extensively around other Angkorean sites in Cambodia? Is a book on all of Cambodia's temple sites a feasible project in the future? Have you written any other books linked to Cambodia? "No I have not visited the other Angkor and pre-Angkor sites in Cambodia but it is on my priority list, especially now that getting to them is not so difficult. I think a book on all of Cambodia's temple sites is an excellent idea but finding a publisher who would take on such a book might not be easy. In my view, publishers are still unwilling to put money into such a specialized book on a country that is still politically unstable in terms of tourism. The other serious problem for a publisher is the pirated copies that are produced in Cambodia. The publisher for my guide, for example, had counted on substantial sales in Cambodia; but the opposite has happened. Because of the pirated copies he is unable to sell the originals - sales in Cambodia are practically nil. I have written three books on Khmer Ceramics produced during the Angkor period: Khmer Ceramics (Oxford University Press, 1984); The Kamraten Collection of Khmer Ceramics (OUP, 1991); The Beauty of Fired Clay (OUP, 1997)."
How do you view the plethora of foreign countries working on different construction projects in Angkor? Are you allowed access to the Angkor Conservatory, where rescued works of art are stored out of sight of the tourists? "I think we can only judge the multitude of foreigners involved with the conservation of Angkor over time. How does their work stand up? I see the influx of expertise from different countries as a positive measure for how can any one country have the technology to apply the proper conservation techniques on such a complex site? I would like to see more teams of mixed nationalities working at the sites rather than the Japanese at the Bayon, the French at Baphuon, etc. Good examples of teams utilizing international expertise and resources are the World Mounments Fund at Preah Khan and the Royal Angkor Project at Preah Ko. I was allowed to take groups to the Angkor Conservatory until 1993 when it was ransacked. Subsequently, I have not been given access. I did, on one trip, have a letter from the Director, giving me permission to see the holdings. However, when I arrived he was in Phnom Penh and no one had the authority to let me in, even though I was carrying the letter from the Director. A typical Southeast Asian stand-off."
Are you a full-time writer or do you teach and lecture as well? Where do you live? Do you speak Khmer? "I am an Independent Researcher specializing in the culture of Southeast Asia. Each year I teach for six weeks in the University of London (School of African and Oriental Stuides)/Christie's Post-Graduate Course in Asian Arts. I also lecture frequently. This year, for example, I was Guest Lecturer on SE Asian culture for a Swan Hellenic Cruise on board a P & O Liner that went from Singapore to Malaysia, Myanmar, Orissa and Sri Lanka. Then I lectured in Washington D C on Angkor. I live in Bangkok and have residencies in London and San Francisco. I personally spend about six months a year in Bangkok and three in the other two places. My husband, a corporate financial advisor, has a business in Bangkok and that's what keeps us (fortunately) in Southeast Asia. No, I do not speak Khmer. I speak Thai which has helped me a little bit in Cambodia as there are so many Thais working there and also because the Cambodians receive Thai television, now an increasing number speak Thai."
With a 5th edition of her Angkor: Cambodia's Wondrous Khmer Temples due for publication by Odyssey in mid-2006, renowned Cambodia scholar Dawn Rooney has another book on the same subject, titled Angkor Observed. It consists of a selection of early western travellers' impressions of Angkor, the capital of the Khmer Empire from the late 9th to the middle of the 15th century. Angkor Observed, with over 80 photographs and illustrations, is published in Bangkok by Orchid Press (ISBN: 974-8304-79-5) and is a 'must' for all lovers of Angkor. Read more about Dawn Rooney's work at the Rooney Archive.
Exclusive interview with a daughter of Cambodia, Loung Ung
Celebrated author and human rights activist, Loung Ung, is the national spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine Free World, and she is also a survivor. Her first book, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, is a powerful and compelling story of Ms Ung's young life under the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s. The book, published in the US by Harper Collins in January 2000, has earned the author much praise and media attention. In a spare moment during her hectic tour of colleges and lecture halls on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and their landmine campaign, she found time to answer a few questions for 'Cambodia Tales' and the interview can be read here.
Loung Ung's book was published in the United Kingdom by Mainstream Publishing in April 2001 and during a brief visit to England (picture above), the author's only personal appearance took place at Waterstone's in Birmingham on 25 April. I attended the book reading and her passionate and vivid descriptions of life as a child in Cambodia was both emotional and inspiring. Click here to read more. She returned to live in Cambodia for a spell whilst writing her second book, Lucky Child, based on her life in America and her sister's life in their homeland. It was published in April 2005.
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