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New book explores Cambodia’s noir side

Samithi Sok / Khmer Times Share:
Iain Donnelly, whose publishing company is rapidly growing. Steve Porte

It would be fair to say that Saraswati Publishing was started to preserve and record stories that can only come from Cambodia.

Iain Donnelly, a Scottish expat who writes under the pen name Steven W. Palmer, wanted to find a way of releasing his books in Cambodia without having to import them from the US.

He quickly realised how much use a publishing company could be in Cambodia.

“But I realised that we could use Saraswati to give platforms not only for expat writers but – more importantly – for young or aspiring Cambodian writers,” he told Khmer Times.

With a reading culture in the country being somewhat non-existent until recently, Donnelly saw an opportunity to encourage more local writers to step forward.

Since its launch only one year ago, Saraswati has published three novels, “Angkor Away” and “Angkor Tears” by Steven W. Palmer and Bob Couttie’s “Temple of the Leper King”.

Along with being a publishing company, Saraswati also offers copy writing, proofreading and editing and a marketing and digital strategy, as well as designing services.

Now Saraswati is looking to be a beacon for Cambodian stories with the book “Mekong Shadows: Tales from Cambodia” – a spiritual successor to the very well-read “Phnom Penh Noir”.

In 2012 “Phnom Penh Noir” was published as an anthology, compiling stories of Phnom Penh – stories that revolved around the themes of truth, morality, regret, betrayal and loss in the lives of the Cambodians carrying the legacy of the Khmer Rouge.

“Phnom Penh Noir” brought new perspectives on Cambodia and on Khmer culture through its stories. And now, after five years, “Mekong Shadows: Tales from Cambodia” seeks to bring more Cambodian stories to the public.

“The inspiration for ‘Mekong Shadows: Tales from Cambodia’ was a simple one,” Donnelly said. “I thought a follow-up [to Phnom Penh Noir] was long overdue.”

Noir will be a key theme in all of the stories in “Mekong Shadows: Tales from Cambodia”. Noir is described by prolific Bangkok-based author Christopher G. Moore as “[Noir] has no one definition. It is used to describe the moody atmosphere of films, fiction, paintings, photographs and music.

“What is that mood? As an artistic expression, the unifying theme revolves around those suffering injustice and unfairness; ordinary people driven into a corner as they watch their hopes, dreams and lives evaporate without a trace.”

“Mekong Shadows: Tales from Cambodia” features stories from a number of well-known Asia-based expatriate writers such as James Newman, John Burdett, John Daysh, Jim Algie, Steven W. Palmer, Tom Vater and Mark “Bibby” Jackson.

The book will also include contributions from local writers such as Kosal Khiev and Ek Madra. Through a partnership with AsiaLife magazine, a competition was held to choose two local authors to have their stories featured in “Mekong Shadows: Tales from Cambodia”.

“The fact that our two winners are 18 and 15 bodes well for the future of Cambodian literature,” said Donnelly.

All profits from the book will be going to Khmer Sight, an NGO formed to “unify ophthalmology [the study of disorders and diseases of the eye] and eye care across the Kingdom”.

“It was conversations with Mark [the editor and publisher of AsiaLife] that produced the idea of donating all net profits to Khmer Sight, a fantastic organisation,” Donnelly said.

Khmer Sight, founded in 2015, is dedicated to improving vision and eye care, as well as restoring the gift of sight to many thousands of Cambodians. They provide training and skill development to many young Cambodians.

Khmer Sight was created thanks to the help of local philanthropists as well as ophthalmologists from Australia and New Zealand.

The book will be published on August 3 at an event at The Plantation in Phnom Penh. The event will start at 7.30pm. Admission will be free and several of the writers will also be in attendance to sign copies.

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