The Disappeared by Kim Echlin
This is the story of a passionate love affair shaped by the killing fields of Cambodia. Anne, a Canadian teenager, falls in love with Serey, a gentle Cambodian musician. Their relationship while he is in Montreal is short but intense. Anne loves Serey with a passion that consumes her – and while Serey finds love and comfort in Anne’s arms he also worries about his family in Cambodia as the country suffers under the brutality of Pol Pot. When the borders finally open Serey makes the difficult decision to leave Anne to find his family.
Eleven years later Anne thinks she sees Serey on TV and she goes to Cambodia to find him – and against all odds she succeeds in finding her lost lover. Against a backdrop of horrific, almost unimaginable loss, the two lovers try to rekindle their relationship in a savage and hostile country. As the story progresses Anne discovers a Cambodia that increasingly shocks her and events occur that shape her life forever.
The book is sparsely and beautiful written. The characters are nuanced and complicated. Anne is a strong-willed woman, outspoken and determined; while Serey is a quiet man, full of secrets and pain. The horrifying legacy of the killing fields is the background to their love affair; the country now a place of permanent suspicion and survival, where people won’t meet each other’s eyes. The book is unrelenting but very moving, the language luminous and compelling. There is a pervading sense of loss throughout the book that seems entirely appropriate given the terrible slaughter of innocents by the Khmer Rouge. Events of mass murder are relayed in ways that are not sensationalized, but instead respectfully understated and thoughtful. While this is a book of terrible tragedy and loss, it is ultimately well worth reading for an insight about what happened in Cambodia under Pol Pot’s reign and the problems the country still has, as well as for a haunting love story. This is an elegant, thought-provoking book in search of truth, humanity and love