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Khmer book review ‘Secret of Life’

Review by Say Tola / Khmer Times Share:

“Secret of Life” is a novel written in 2009 by female author Kem Lyheang. The book was first published in 2014. The book depicts the life of little girl named “Thavy” who faces many difficulties and terrible physical abuse at the hands of her godmother Ms Mach, until one day by chance she meets her long-lost biological father, Mr Vannak.

When the story opens, Ms Thavy is 15 and living in Kandal province. She faces much hardship living with her violent godmother. She has to work like a boy, doing chores like chopping wood, but is still beaten by Ms Mach. Ms Thavy has to drop out of secondary school when Ms Mach forces her to sell cigarettes at a bus station.

During this difficult time, Mr Vichet appears in Ms Thavy’s life. He understands her and encourages her to move on, and gives up his time to teach her. Ms Thavy likes reading a lot, despite not being able to attend school.

When Mr Vichet’s graduation day comes, he goes to meet Ms Thavy and says goodbye, because he wants to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Phnom Penh. While he is away, Ms Thavy thinks of him every day. One day while she is dreaming about him as she is supposed to be cooking rice, she overcooks the rice and is viciously beaten by Ms Mach.

A day later, Ms Thavy decides to run away from home and goes to Phnom Penh in pursuit of Mr Vichet, even as her head is still bleeding after she is attacked by an axe-wielding Ms Mach. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know where Mr Vichet lives, and is badly injured by a motorcycle as she is walking along the road.

Injured and starving, Ms Thavy loses consciousness near a bank. Fortunately, she is rescued and sent to Calmette Hospital by a good Samaritan, a man in his 40s named Mr Vannak who lost his wife during the Khmer Rouge regime. After learning about her life, he pities her and sends his servant to take care of her in the hospital. Seeing that she has no relatives, he takes her to live with him.

A few months later, Mr Vannak falls deeply in love with Ms Thavy, who bears a resemblance to his wife. Mr Vannak was always faithful to his wife but he doesn’t know whether she survived the Khmer Rouge period.

One day Ms Thavy meets Mr Vichet, who is attracted to the woman but decides to sacrifice his own happiness because he believes she will be happier with a wealthy man.

Soon, Ms Thavy and Mr Vannak visit Ms Mach, who gives him a necklace she says belonged to Ms Thavy’s real mother before she passed away. Looking at the familiar necklace, a shocked Mr Vannak realises that Ms Thavy is his daughter. Mr Vannak then sends her to study with Mr Vichet. Sponsor by Scholar Library

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