Having a perfect wife as the love of your life, and owning a successful business: for many, this is a dream come true, signs that have you made it in this life. Yet, such things can slip from your grasp in an instant as nothing lasts forever.
These are the themes of the Khmer-language book “Kou Kam Kou Korb” by Koy Yokho. Even though much of the book concerns World War II, it also illustrates issues such as class mobility and the competitive nature of capitalist society in that era. The book provides a general view of society, but also details the suffering of one capitalist family that owns plenty of property, but cannot escape sorrow as the wife realises she has a chronic disease that has gone undiagnosed too long to be treated.
After getting married, new couple Sin Sambo and Romsay live happily. Romsay becomes pregnant, but her newborn baby cannot bring her joy as she starts to suffer from an undiagnosed disease, which gradually worsens. Knowing that she does not have long time to live, she wonders who will take care of her baby. She decides on her good friend Sayphen, whom she trusts the most.
Just 25 years old, Sayphen has a good character as a proper Khmer woman. She takes good care of the baby, as if it were her own son, and manages all the housework perfectly. A few months later, Romsay dies.
Sin Sambo, despite his growing wealth, suffers and cries every day. Aside from being responsive to her work, Sayphen comforts him and urges him to visit tourist sites so that he will forget his sorrow.
Soon, Sambo falls in love with Sayphen because she loved his son and does a great job around the house in place of his wife. However, Sayphen refuses to return his love as she feels it would be a betrayal to her good friend, Romsay. Sambo feels worse and worse. He changes his character, getting involved with other businessmen, going to bars and coming back home late every night. He eventually falls in love with a bar girl, Sithara.
When Sithara moves in to Sambo’s house, she wants to control everything. She beats Sambo’s son. Sayphen is frustrated, leading to conflict. Later on, Sayphen forces herself to leave the house with the little boy. No longer trusted at home, Sithara has a conflict with Sambo and eventually asks him for a divorce as she feels that Sambo still loves Sayphen. She never loved Sambo; she just wanted his property.
On the same day, Sambo tries to find Sayphen and his son. Overcome with sorrow, he drives his car too fast and eventually hits a girl with a baby. He then realises that they are the very people he is searching for, yet Sayphen loses consciousness as she is struck down by his car.
The story ends with Sayphen agreeing to marry Sambo as he knows no other woman can replace his wife than Sayphen.