From Publishers Weekly
Canadian novelist Echlin (Elephant Winter
) derives a powerful, transcendent love story from the Cambodian genocide. Anne Greves, a motherless 16-year-old student, meets a Cambodian refugee, Serey, working as a math instructor amid the heady music scene of late-1970s Montreal, and they fall irredeemably in love. Serey's family got him out of Pol Pot's Cambodia, although he is waiting to be able to return and find them; Anne's father, a successful engineer of prosthetics, does not approve of Anne's exotic, older boyfriend, and when, as her father predicted, Serey leaves her, disappearing for 11 years, Anne journeys to Phnom Penh to find him. There she comes face to face with the terrible fallout of the collapsed Khmer Rouge dictatorship. The beautifully spare narrative is daringly imaginative in the details, drawing the reader deep inside the wounded capital city. Anne's single-mindedness drives the action, although her insistence on Western values of accountability knocks hollowly against the machinery of a ruthless military state. Echlin employs some implausible romance plotting and spoils the suspense early on, yet she creates a sorrowfully compelling world. (Jan.)
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“Why did you never answer my letters?” “What letters?” Who was censoring whom? Was it the dictatorship in Cambodia, where Serey lived? Or was it the protective father of Anne, 16, in Canada, who did not want her dating a dangerous stranger? The young people fall passionately in love when, in exile from the cruel Khmer Rouge, he plays in a rock band in Montreal. Then he goes back to Cambodia, and after years of waiting, she travels to find him in his country. Now, 30 year later, she speaks to him in her head as she remembers their passionate love, in Montreal and then in Cambodia, the baby she lost, and their parting when she returned to Canada. The dramatic blend of erotic bliss, physical horror, and enduring political issues will draw readers into her anguished conflict about love, guilt, forgiveness, and revenge. As she sees land-mine victims, without limbs or face, and wanders the killing fields where tourists now gather, she ponders the role of those who do nothing, including the indifferent. Is silence a crime? --Hazel Rochman