Short stories address Cambodia’s social issues

Mekong Shadows: Tales From Cambodia features 21 stories about life in Cambodia, written by expat and local authors. Photo supplied
Mekong Shadows: Tales From Cambodia features 21 stories about life in Cambodia, written by expat and local authors. Photo supplied

The Kingdom’s social issues will be up for exploration in a new anthology of short stories being released on Thursday.

The compilation of 21 stories published by Saraswati Publishing, Mekong Shadows: Tales from Cambodia, covers a range of topics and timeframes, with stories of hope, love, despair and even black magic, felt by both adults and children.

Editor Iain Donnelly, a Scottish writer and journalist who has been residing in Cambodia for four years, says the original purpose of the collection was as a follow-up to Phnom Penh Noir, another Cambodia-centric anthology edited by Christopher G Moore and published five years ago, and as an effort to promote local authors.

“A collection of short stories is a good way to discover authors [whose works] people may not have read before, so hopefully it can help everyone involved,” he said.

Most of the works are contributed by established Asia-based expatriate writers such as James Newman, John Daysh and Steven W Palmer, but the book also features four Cambodian authors, two of whom were winners of a short story writing competition hosted by Saraswati and the magazine AsiaLIFE.

In Raindrops, first-place winner Voleak Phan depicts the intense agony endured by Veasna, a 12-year-old mute boy, as he has to deal with abuse from his mother and exploitation, as well as the inability to communicate and access education. Her narrative allows the reader to feel the painful experiences of the protagonist.

“I don’t really know what my style of writing is,” Phan said. “I just like to write descriptive details. I also like to involve lots of action and symbols so readers can interpret the meaning by themselves.”

The 18-year-old Siem Reap native who graduated from Jay Pritzker Academy and idolises novelist Khaled Hosseini, the author of The Kite Runner, claims that Raindrops is inspired by her observations of daily life. While Voleak names her protagonist after her first fan, the story idea is influenced by a child with a mental disorder from her village, who suffered a similar fate.

“I wrote this story to portray this discrimination against someone who is born different,” she said.

According to Donnelly, 1,000 copies of the book will be available at Monument Books and a few other retailers in Phnom Penh, and an electronic copy is also available. All proceeds go towards the Khmer Sight Foundation, an NGO combating cataracts, the leading cause of blindness in Cambodia.

“I thought that link of hopefully enabling a lot of Cambodians to regain their sight tied in nicely with publishing a book,” Donnelly said.

Mekong Shadows: Tales from Cambodia (187 pages) can be purchased for $10 at Monument Books in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and at Kepler’s Books and Book Bazaar in Kampot. It will be launched on Thursday at 7:30pm at The Plantation, #28 Street 184, where several of the authors will be in attendance. There will also be a launch held at Book Bazaar in Kampot on August 10 at 7:30pm.