Government spokesman and popular Cambodian author Ek Tha launched his fourth book last week – Fight the Enemy, Find Love – a historical-romantic novella which dramatises the Third Indochina War with a Romeo-and-Juliet-style tale.
The story begins with Hung, the 17-year-old son of a Vietnamese soldier who fought and died for the American-backed South Vietnamese army in the Vietnam War, after seeing a notice which calls for volunteers to fight the Khmer Rouge to liberate Cambodia in 1977. Knowing about the Khmer Rouge’s ruthless treatment of the Cambodian people, especially children, Hung decides to enroll in the army, even though it means defying his widowed mother.
Hung, other Vietnamese brothers in arms and the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front soon find themselves fighting in the Third Indochina War. Although they were able to topple the brutal Khmer Regime in January 1979, the war continues on as forces who refuse to surrender are still terrorising part of Cambodia.
On one fateful day in 1986, Hung, now a 26-year-old committed soldier, runs into a teenage Khmer girl while he is lost in the jungle spying on a Khmer Rouge zone. Her name is Bopha-Ek, the daughter of a Khmer Rouge commander, which makes her his enemy in war. Bopha-Ek could have killed Hung easily, as when they meet he is already starving and exhausted from his journey. However, her gentle heart prevents her from doing so. Little do the two young people know that their encounter is the beginning of a beautiful romance of star-crossed lovers.
Like his other previous works, most notably Long Love, Short Life, Tha showcases highly creative penmanship in Fight the Enemy, Find Love through mind-blowing twists and suspense. Meanwhile, the young love, upon which the plot centres, exudes relatable emotion throughout the book.
However, the author’s most notable skill lies in using simple words and wit to create a realistic depiction of the era. He is able to create scenes of the former Saigon and Cambodian battlefields throughout the 1970s and 1980s in the minds of the readers.
“As a son of Cambodian’s recent tragic past, I myself went through both bad and good experiences and lived as a refugee in Vietnam in the 1970s,” Tha says. “I subsequently learnt much from the war veterans of different factions who had experienced conflict from the 1970s through to the 1990s.”
“These veterans inspired me to write something different: something I call a fiction novel,” he adds.
Even more important is that the book can contribute to the mutual understanding and improved relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam, that have famously been seen as enemies for many years.
While the Romeo-and-Juliet-style is not really unique in literature, the author concludes the story with a very beautiful ending, which symbolises the end of antagonism between the two Southeast Asian nations and replaces it with peace and prosperity.
“I hope my English language fiction novel will reach a significant readership both internationally and nationally, including young Cambodians who were born after the war and conflict had ceased,” Tha adds. “I will publish a Khmer language version of this book at a later date.”
Ek Tha’s Fight the Enemy, Find Love is now available at $15 per copy at Monument Books.