“Kolap Pailin” (Rose of Pailin) is a widely known Khmer novel written by Nhok Them in 1936 and published in 1943. Now taught to all Cambodian students as part of the high school curriculum, it is considered a Khmer classic.
The story chronicles the struggles of Chao Chet, a man who travels from Sangke district to Pailin district in Battambang province [before the two districts were in the same province, but now divided are into Pailin city and province] which was on the Kingdom’s western border to work as a gold miner.
The novel examines the value of personal integrity and perseverance. Chao Chet has lost his family, but never gives up in the face of adversity. He moves from his parents’ hometown and asks a prominent man, [Loung] Ratanak, if he can live with him. Chao Chet is poor, but he is never greedy. He works hard but never tries to flatter his boss. All his words come from the bottom of his heart.
Throughout “Kolap Pailin,” Nhok Them extols the virtues of compassion, persistence, and honesty. Chao Chet is trusted by his boss and the boss’s daughter. At one point, he puts his life in danger to save his boss from being shot by thieves.
At the end of the story, [Loung] Ratanak repays Chao Chet’s loyalty by arranging for him to marry his daughter, after determining that they genuinely love each other. Chao Chet ultimately inherits his father-in-law’s wealth.
The book gives the reader an understanding of what relationships between young men and women were like in those years, and the importance people once placed on listening to the views of their parents. At that time, Khmer people still held religion, culture, traditions and their ancestors in the highest respect.