Well-known author Kong Bunchhoeun wrote “Ampel Ampek” or firefly in 1995. The book depicts society where people only respect the rich and view the poor with disdain. Prose aside, the book also contains poetry in a more contemporary form – showing how Khmer poetry had evolved.
Unlike the spoiled children of many other rich families, the female protagonist in this book – Ms Varuny – likes writing and reading books. She wants to improve Cambodia’s agriculture sector and sees the kingdom’s future in plantations. Obviously, then, she decides to major in agriculture in university.
Through her passion in reading, especially literature and poetry, she gets to know other talented writers. One of them is poet Akara Longvek whose work is published in newspapers and his poetry read over radio. Longvek is the heartthrob of girls with many wanting to marry him, though they have never seen a picture of him. The author is famous but nobody knows his true self.
The book also tells the story of Ms Varuny’s family driver called “Chem”. Though he is an honest employee, Ms Varuny really detests him because of his appearance.
“Bad teeth and slanted eyes,” she says. She is also bothered that Chem likes to play the chapey. The haunting sound of the stringed instrument really bothers her. To add to that, Ms Varuny’s friends also criticise her for having such an ugly man in her household.
The plot thickens when Ms Varuny’s father becomes the programme manger in organising a literary contest to select the country’s best literary writer and poet. Everyone knows that Longvek would win hands down.
But Longvek knows that if he submits his entry, he has to identify himself. He then submits a poem to the competition under a false name of “Sidareth”. The real Mr Sidareth is infuriated and he and Ms Varuny then take it among themselves to find the real Akara Longvek.
Like other smitten women, Ms Varuny, too, is in love with this phantom and this book is about her struggle of her family values and her heartstrings.
Brains rather than riches attract Ms Varuny and she has turned away many suitors bearing gifts and large sums of money in the form of dowry to her parents.
When the day of declaring the winner of the literary contest comes, the father of Ms Varuny gets a surprise phone call from author Longvek. He said he will reveal himself if he wins the first prize, provided he is allowed to marry Ms Varuny. At the same time, driver Chem is also fired by the father for harassing Ms Varuny’s friends.
Akara Longvek, of course, wins the prize and when the time comes to collect the award he turns out to be driver Chem.
Embarrassed and broken-hearted Ms Varuny turns down his proposal and then marries Vuthy Phirumketh – a rich man chosen by her parents.
There is a further twist in the tale. Vuthy Phirumketh also uses Akara Longvek and Chem as pseudonyms. So is Phirumketh the real Akara Longvek, and has Ms Varuny married the man of her dreams. Read the book to find out.
Author Bunchhoeun composed a number of poems and novels when Cambodian literature flourished in the 1960s, and survived the Khmer Rouge regime. He succumbed to cancer in April 2016.
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