1. Survival in the Killing Fields by Haing S Ngor
Following his portrayal of Dith Pran in The Killing Fields, Khmer Rouge survivor Haing S Ngor proved himself to be a successful actor, winning an Oscar in 1985. Sadly, tragedy defined his legacy after he was gunned down and killed in an apparent gangland shooting in Los Angeles. His story, evocatively told with the help of Roger Warner, is nothing short of extraordinary.
2. Master of Confessions by Thierry Cruvellier
Thierry Cruviellier is the only journalist to witness all the Khmer Rouge war crimes trials of the past 15 years, and it shows. His record of the first trial at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – he sat through every minute of the eight month proceedings – makes for a gripping read. He is an astute observer of character and his portraits of the lawyers are almost as fascinating as his take on the notorious “master of confessions” on trial, S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias “Duch”.
3. The Elimination by Rithy Panh
The finest Cambodian director of his generation, Rithy Panh, in this lyrical autobiography – composed of interspersed scenes of his adolescence under the Khmer Rouge and later confrontation with Duch – proves himself a fine writer, too. Naturally for a filmmaker, his use of imagery is strong and the reader takes away a haunting sense of irremediable loss.
4. The Gate by Francois Bizot
Taken prisoner by the Khmer Rouge after he settled in Cambodia to study Buddhism, young French anthropologist Bizot found himself at the mercy of the cadre who would become the notorious chief of S-21, Duch. The development of Bizot’s peculiar bond with Duch and his role as a go-between for regime forces and foreigners holed up in the French embassy during the fall of Phnom Penh make for a rare and intense narrative. The story will be released as a feature film, directed by Indochine mastermind Regine Wargnier, later this year.
5. Phnom Penh: A Cultural and Literary History by Milton Osborne
An authoritative and affectionate historical and literary account of Phnom Penh’s rise, from its humble beginnings as a Mekong port town to its present-day status as an “ambiguous town in an ambiguous country”. Colourful details about historical characters – both foreign and local – abound in Osborne’s depiction of Phnom Penh. For a practical guide to the history of different areas of the city, see Strolling Around Phnom Penh by Jean Michel-Philippi.
7. Brother Enemy: The War After the War by Nayan Chanda
No longer in print in UK or USA –only available second hand
Originally published in 1986, Nayan Chanda’s Brother Enemy is still an authoritative text on the geopolitical history of Indochina after the regional communist takeover in 1975. With access to most of the main players, including interviews with King Norodom Sihanouk in exile in North Korea, Chanda reconstructs the delicate balances of power in the region that pitted a Soviet-backed Vietnam against a Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge.
8. When the War Was Over by Elizabeth Becker
Journalist Elizabeth Becker was one of only two Western journalists to visit Cambodia and interview Pol Pot while the Khmer Rouge was in power. Her book, When the War Was Over, weaves together first-hand reporting using interviews with the major players and ordinary people to provide one of the most comprehensive, authoritative and compelling accounts of how and why the regime came to power and the devastating consequences it had for the country and its people.
9. Crossing Three Wildernesses by U Sam Oeur
Less well-known than other authors on this list, poet U Sam Oeur spent his childhood tending rice fields before flying to the US to take part in a prestigious writing program in the United States. After returning to Phnom Penh, he elected to stay there as the Khmer Rouge closed in on the capital. His autobiography, both a story of his own survival and an insight into his country’s myths and traditions, is as memorable for its rich, poetic prose as the crisp human images it captures.
10. A History of Cambodia by David Chandler
A comprehensive, clear and honest attempt to illuminate an often difficult subject, David Chandler is open about the challenges inherent in covering eras from which scant documentary evidence remains. Nonetheless, he manages to bring together multiple sources to provide a compact, yet detailed, overview of Cambodia’s past, from pre-Angkorian civilisation up to the modern age.
11. Colonial Cambodia’s Bad Frenchmen by Gregor Muller
$54.95 (not in stock, only avaliable to order)
Besides having one of the best titles of any non-fiction book ever, Colonial Cambodia’s Bad Frenchmen is the true tale of one Thomas Caraman, who lived, as author Gregor Muller writes, as an “adventurer and carpetbagger at the fringes of the colonial project”.
Hot off the press: newly released in September and October
· The Art of Public Sleeping by James Hunt. $18.50
· Cambodia – A Journey Through the Land of the Khmer with photos by Kraig Lieb and text by Tom Vater. $35.50
· In a Rocket Made of Ice: Among the Children of Wat Opot by Gail Gutradt. $23.50
· The Khmer Lands of Vietnam: Environment, Cosmology and Sovereignty by Philip Taylor. $32.50
· John Thomson: The Early Years - In Search of the Orient by Joel Montague & Jim Mizerski. Copies will be delivered to Monument next week.
· Britain and Sihanouk’s Cambodia by Nicholas Tarling. $39.50
· Leap & Hop Cambodia (A Travel Guide for Children) written by Isabelle Demenge with illustrations by Emilie Sarnel. $26.50