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Book Review: Digging up a painful past

Title: L'Ombre d'Un Doute
Author: Somanos Sar

Somanos Sar was 17 years old when he arrived in Paris with a shattered heart and not a word of French in his vocabulary. He had endured three years, eight months and 20 days of back-breaking labour in the rice fields under the Khmer Rouge regime.  He had lost all of his family except for his mother, who was the only one left to join him in his new home, far away from home.

After 29 years, Sar is the author of two award-winning novels, both of which are rooted in his traumatic experience back in Cambodia.

In 2005, Khmer Apocalypse earned him the Prix des Tropiques Agence Francaise de Development (AFD). For his latest work, L'Ombre d'Un Doute (which translates to the Shadow of a Doubt), Sar became the second recipient of the Phnom Penh Accueil Literature Prize in March this year.

The book, Sar writes on his website, is a tribute to his sister Thidima, who "sacrificed her life for her loved ones".

What truly matters

With L'Ombre d'Un Doute, the author takes readers on a journey of adventure, thrills and espionage.

Its main themes are giving selflessly, forgiveness, the guilt and the responsibility of having survived, and the place of death in life. Without being bitter or moralising, yet profoundly shaped by personal experiences, the book represents Sar's vision of the true values in life.

Written in a light and direct, even conversational style, the novel makes for a pleasant and easy read. It will be particularly interesting to young Cambodians who are likely to appreciate the author's philosophical innuendos.

The book is published in French and Khmer - unfortunately it has not been translated to English yet - and a study guide will be included in the edition published in Cambodia.

Here, perhaps more than abroad, L'Ombre d'Un Doute achieves its full effect as it provides an escape from reality and stimulates the imagination. It is a refuge for some, a place to live for others. Between its lines, readers can discover, as it were, the true "Khmer soul".

Strengthening cultural ties

The Phnom Penh Accueil is a francophone association founded in 2001.

Through social and cultural activities, and communicating with the local community, Phnom Penh Accueil aims to facilitate the adaptation of French-speaking newcomers to Cambodia. It also seeks to strengthen the cultural ties between Cambodia and the French-speaking countries in the world.

The Phnom Penh Accueil offers its members, and the entire French-speaking community, a variety of activities that prioritise Cambodia and its history.

Somanos Sar will be signing copies of L'Ombre d'Un Doute at 5pm today at the French Cultural Centre in Phnom Penh. The book will retail for US$1.

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