Review: Reflections of a Khmer Soul

This new work, by a Khmer American woman born in April 1975, just as her country was plunged into the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime, is not another first person narrative of the events of that time. Rather, it is a narrative of a personal journey exploring the legacy of being ethnic Cambodian in the aftermath of Pol Pot, of living with the stories of war that live as a “disorderly chaos churning in my head.”

Ms. Phim is not the daughter of urban elites banished to the countryside as “new” people, as all of those to publish first person accounts have been to date. Her family members were farmers, and this lends a different tone to her perspective. Her own early memories are from life in refugee camps in Thailand where Thai soldiers are the ogres of myth, and growing up in the United States being the responsible older daughter. Some of her themes will resonate across the lives of other Asian American daughters, for example: white skin and pointed noses – what conceptions of beauty to embrace, living with a name that Euro-Americans have trouble pronouncing, finding healing in “coining”, and living with responsibility to family.

But other topics are clearly and pointedly only for Khmer, the draw to return to the motherland despite and because of the heartache there; a pride in things Khmer – from Angkor Wat to beautiful silks to soothing Khmer melodies; an appreciation and acceptance of Khmer standards of female modesty; and most difficult of all – coming to terms with the violence of Khmer Rouge period.

Who was to blame? The “ignorant” peasants, tricked by the Western educated Marxists, or the corrupt and exploitative urban elite who treated those beneath them with great cruelty? The discussion Ms. Phim weaves has important ramifications for life in contemporary Cambodia. In the second half of the manuscript Ms. Phim does not stay home as a dutiful daughter, but travels to many countries from Thailand to Peru, writing that growing up as a refugee set her on the course of a nomad. The book is an interesting contribution to the literature on Asian Americans, Cambodian Americans and growing up as a transnational. It will likely be most powerful when read by other Khmer Americans who wrestle with the same demons and live with the same legacy.

To learn more about the author, the book and her future endeavors, visit: http://navyphim.blogspot.com/.

REFLECTIONS OF A KHMER SOUL
By Navy Phim
Memoir
Wheatmark Book Publishing
Size: 5.5 x 8.5
Pages: 164
Publication Date: August 15, 2007
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-58736-861-5
Suggested Retail Price: $14.95

Read a sample of REFLECTIONS OF A KHMER SOUL on: Google Books

You must be logged in to post a comment