The Disappeared, by Kim Echlin
I didn’t love the style of writing. I’m not saying it was bad, it just wasn’t for me. The author has the narrator quote people speaking and doesn’t use quotation marks, just commas (I said, isn’t it strange how people go to war and still play each other’s music? You said, My grandmother used to take me to a temple to pray for peace.) Sometimes there is no “I said” or “you said” indicator of who is speaking, or that anyone even is. I want to say that this made the story confusing and difficult to follow at times, but I feel like that makes me sound like a reading noob.
I didn’t love the protagonist/narrator. She falls head over heels in love with a boy, Serey, from Cambodia, and after he leaves Montreal for home to try and locate his family following the Cambodian civil war, she pines for him for ten years. Then, seeing someone who looks like Serey in a crowd-shot in Phnom Penh, she buys a one way ticket and sets of in search of him. She enlisted the help of Mao, a remorque driver, to driver her around every night until she finds him. And later, when she loses him again, she begs Mao to risk his own life to drive her to Ang Tasom to search again, with no regard for the fact that Mao has his own family to look after. Then she foolishly challenges the local police, causes two friends to risk everything to save her, and STILL continues to defy warnings and ultimately ends up jailed and starving. By now, I’ve spoiled most of the book, but I won’t ruin the ending other to say that this boy consumes her entire life. Maybe I’m just an emotionless zombie, but I don’t imagine that I would ever attach myself to someone so desperately (mayyyyybe my son, but certainly not some man). I found her incredibly frustrating and totally unsympathetic. Then again, maybe this is what the author intended.
The story itself takes place during the Cambodian War, and Pol Pot’s Year Zero “cleansing” of 2 million (or more) “undesirable” citizens – mostly educated city people. This is where the book really shines, apologetically wading through the horrors of those years. If reading isn’t your thing, for a fun date night, you can watch the 1984 movie The Killing Fields. Good times. There is nothing like graphic story of genocide to make you grateful to be Canadian.
Rating: Borrow it. This is a story worth reading.