Image: Marine Ky, "Interventions / Saṅkhāra-Khandha: The Builder of Lives"(Detail) 2009-2013. Mixed-media with inks made from plants collected in France and mixed with iron.
This month we present writing from Cambodia. In a departure from our usual contemporary focus, we're offering a selection of texts ranging from twelfth-century poetry to twentieth-century song, outlining Cambodian history as revealed in its literature. Translated from Khmer, French, and Sanskrit, and complemented by mesmerizing audio recordings, the prose and poetry here bring this little known literary tradition to English. In work by two survivors of the Khmer Rouge, the great poet U Sam Oeur recalls his childhood during the Japanese occupation of the 1940s, and Soth Polin considers filial devotion and betrayal. Laura Jean McKay speaks with writer, musician, and artist Oum Sophany about her journals from the Khmer Rouge regime. Kham Pun Kimny comes clean on his love of the road, and poet Ukñā Suttantaprījā Ind (Oknha Sottanpreychea Oen) records a nineteenth-century pilgrimage to Angkor Wat. Pioneer woman Khmer poet Queen Indradevi eulogizes her sister and her king, while Cambodia's first rap star busts a modern move. And the "Elvis of Cambodia," Sinn Sisamouth, performs Kong Bunchhoeun's ode to the Sangkae River. Guest editor Sharon May contributes an illuminating introduction. Elsewhere, we run three pieces from the German and the Czech on train travel and publish the final installment of our fiction serial with Peruvian writer Carlos Yushimito.
Cambodian Literature: From Angkor to Year Zero and Beyond
The ability to read and write, knowledge of a foreign language, even the wearing of eyeglasses, could get one killed.
The Keeper: Oum Sophany
Sophany emerged from one of the most brutal regimes in modern history with her husband, her daughter, two sisters, a dress, a diary, and a homemade bathing suit.
Journey to Angkor Wat
The captain guides the wheel to the debris / to slice clear through, but the steamer sticks fast.
Since we didn’t have soap, lice abounded in our shorts, so we wore them loose-fitting.
GaSouht and praCh as Told by Master Kong Nay
Rapper praCh and poet U Sam Ouer trade verses, and Kong Nay tells the story of praCh's life
I completely ruined my father.
The Shade of the Tenth Coconut Tree
Silent and still, I stand / without words, waiting for you deep into darkness.
Crazy for Wandering
I was not mortified by the vendors with their repulsive pot bellies hanging out and their shirtless bodies encased in tiny shorts that offered glimpses of their balls.
From the Great Stele of Phimeanakas
having composed this pure paean / at the expense of all other arts, she gleamed.