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Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land Hardcover – April 12, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Brinkley takes on the pricey pitfalls of nation building and the labyrinth of centuries-old political corruption in this riveting piece of literary reportage. At once a tale of human tragedy and a primer on the future of Western engagement with developing—and autocratic—countries, the book offers a rare look inside a country beleaguered by poverty and imprisoned by patronage and venal leadership since the 13th century; traumatized by colonialism, Pol Pot's brutal Khmer Rouge, and the genocide he unleashed (and later by Vietnam, which overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979). Brinkley is merciless in his critique of both Cambodia's leadership as well as the folly of donor countries that placed faith in the U.N. to bring Cambodia into a modern, democratic era. He expresses empathy for "the most abused people in the world," many of whom are in the grip of post-traumatic stress disorders after Pol Pot's reign of terror, but he saves his mercenary eye for the corrupt leaders, including present dictator Hun Sen, who continue to suppress and exploit the country's resources and young, vital population. (Apr.)
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Kirkus, February 15, 2011
“An excellent…account of a country whose historic poverty, exacerbated by the Vietnam War, remains remarkably unchanged.”
“A riveting piece of literary reportage.”
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Since my first trip to Cambodia in 2008 I've been an avid reader of books and articles available on Cambodia. The author, Joel Brinkley, returns to Cambodia nearly 30 years after his journalist assignment in 1979 right after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge. Now Mr. Brinkley takes a new look at Cambodia as he delves deeply, through extensive research and countless interviews into current day Cambodia and it's modern history. One of his most stunning quotes for me is that of former US Ambassador to Cambodia, Joseph Mussomeli, which sets the tone for the book. "Be careful, because Cambodia is the most dangerous place you will ever visit. You will fall in love with it , and eventually it will break your heart". Much of the information was not new to me. Corruption, violations of human rights, the subversion of a fledging democracy, cronyism, legal impunity, etc. You don't have to spend much time in Cambodia to learn about these things. But Joel Brinkley really takes the reader into the story more deeply. And if you have any connection to and affection for the people of Cambodia, it does break your heart. This book goes into a lot of detail yet is very readable. It takes the reader through some history and tries to make sense against Cambodia's historical context, why this corrupt system seems to flourish. For many westerners interested in and concerned about the present and future of Cambodia this book can help explain some stubbornly puzzling questions about Cambodia. The subject of this book can be very interesting though also depressing ( with it's title am i not stating the obvious? ).... but in the epilogue the author provides some worthwhile insights about the present and future of Cambodia and from where it's rays of hope may emanate.
While i understand that no book is perfect and there are subjective impressions with which i disagree, this book is very well researched and a very worthwhile read. I highly recommend it. My only disagreement with the author is that i did not find the Cambodian people 'dour'. For sure, there is a great deal of emotional and mental damage and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as the author reports, but in general i find the Cambodian people much warmer and more loving than i do in my own country. The illuminating smile and loving presence of the mother i met at the hospital where she was sitting vigil to the long recovery of her daughter from her injuries in the Water Festival Stampede in November of 2010 is something i will long remember.
I hope that this book gets a wide reading and helps people to better understand this neglected country and will be motivated to help in some way.
It is sometimes repetitious and the theme is played over and over again. I can't blame the author since he witnessed the same government promises and inaction year after year.
Having visited this country in 2014, I can only agree with the author about the sad plight of the people.
However I was impressed by the young generation and their hopes for a better life.