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Book Fair to Inspire Khmer Youth

Nou Sotheavy / Khmer Times Share:

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The 2014 Cambodia Book Fair, to be held Nov. 28 to 30, aims to promote book publishing and encourage reading in the Kingdom. The annual three-day event will focus this year on books written in Khmer or the works of foreign authors translated into Khmer.

The book fair, to be held at the National Library of Phnom Penh under the theme “Read Me, See the World,” will include workshops, storytelling, raffles and a number of other small promotions throughout the weekend. It is a collaborative effort of the National Library of Cambodia, the Cambodian Librarians and Documentalists Association, the ministries of Culture and Education, and literary enthusiasts from around Phnom Penh.

The fair will engage bookstores, literacy organizations and avid readers at a number of activities in order to highlight the work of Khmer authors and illustrators, say organizers.

The Journal

Teri Yamada, editor and co-founder of Nou Hach Literary Journal, is an avid supporter of writing and the annual book fair. 

The journal seeks to recover Cambodian literature lost during the cultural devastation of the Khmer Rouge era and its namesake is based on a famous writer who was killed at the time.

Founded in 2002, the journal stopped production in 2010 due to funding and piracy issues, but has resumed sporadic publication. The group comprises artists, writers, librarians, scholars and professors of literature and the arts.  

Currently located at “Our Books” on Street 63 in the capital’s Boeung Keng Kang 1 commune, the organization has been successfully connecting the glory of the past with today’s book culture via their collection of original Cambodian short stories.

The Nou Hach Journal has been distributed to high school teachers in efforts to encourage young people to read and write in Khmer.

The Nou Hach Influence

Beloved for his four published novels and poetry before he died, Nou Hach’s works are still taught in Khmer high schools today. He began his writing career as an editor of the national newspaper “Le Kampuchea” under the Ministry of Information.

Nou Hach became a personal secretary to the Cambodian Prime Minister, Prince Yutheavong, in 1948 and was an ambassador to Indonesia and Vietnam, as well as being nominated as a special envoy to the UN.

An advocate for Khmer literature, his four novels are still revered by scholars and fans today. “Phka Srbon” (The Wilted Flower) is his most famous publication and was taught in high schools during the 1960s and 1970s after first being serialized the weekly newspaper in 1947. 

The classic book is a tragedy about a traditional arranged marriage, ending with the heroine dying from depression for not marrying her true love.

In 1953, Cambodia had just 48 published novels, which mushroomed to over 500 by 1970. Most of the popular novels followed themes of arranged marriage and tragic love.

In the late 1960s, when well-educated and literate Cambodians were targeted by the Khmer Rouge, writers and artists went into hiding and the publishing industry vanished.  

Although written two years prior to its publication in 1972, Nou Hach’s  “Mala Tuon Citt” (Garland of the Heart)  struck a nerve of Khmer nationalism as it was written about the country during World War II.

Book Culture

The current generation of Cambodian authors is still entrenched in love stories today. 

Sok Chanphal, well-known author of short romance and horror stories, is also a lyrist for music production company Hong Meas. After experimenting with limited publication of a collection of short stories, he has found more success writing love songs. 

His love for reading has encouraged him to invest in a small establishment called Bonnalai Cafe (Book Cafe) located on Street 440 near the Russian Market. 

Shelves of books surround small wooden tables, and framed photos of famous authors and celebrities adorn the cafe’s walls. Most of the books are modern, including Sok Chanphal’s collections of short stories priced at $1.50.

“I remember Nou Hach’s beautiful tragedies,” Sok Chanphal said, recalling his days as a young high school student. Now his passion for penmanship has led him to invest in the Khmer literature for future generations to enjoy.

 To him, the cafe is a place where bookworms can meet, hold workshops and chill in a literary environment, surrounded by the portraits of Khmer authors and icons of scholarly life.

Author Chen Meas, a Cambodian poet born in 1980, believes that Cambodian book culture has evolved heavily since Nou Hach’s time. 

There are more people in the Kingdom reading now compared to when he was a child. 

Mr. Meas feels that the younger generation sees books as a way to improve their skills and open their minds. Unfortunately, he thinks that many authors today need to expand beyond the genre of romance. 

“Reading one romantic book is like reading ten romantic books, it’s all the same!” he exclaims. 

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