(c) 2005-2007 Oliver Bonten
I first came across this book while aboard a ferry on the Tonle Sap river, travelling from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. A Frenchman seated before me was reading it, and, while I had more eyes for the beautiful Khmer woman travelling with him, I did a bit of parasitic reading over the frenchman's shoulder and found the book he was reading quite interesting. Later, I realised that the book was also recommended in the Loose travel guide on Cambodia, and so I decided to buy a copy once I was back in Germany. (I took note of the title only, and then discovered that there are plenty of books called "River of Time" - I even posess one of them, a story collection by David Brin - but it was the correct book. I found the passage that I had been reading in the boat.)
Jon Swain is a veteran war correspondent for the Sunday Times, and this book is largely a story of the assignment that probably made him one - when, as a young man, he was sent to a peaceful and prosperous country called Cambodia. For those who have seen the movie The Killing Fields - Jon Swain is the journalist whose old passport they use to make Dith Pran's fake one.
It's a bit weird when, in the earlier parts of the book, somewhere you read about Swain meeting the veteran war correspondents who seem to be travelling from war to war, and then to realise that he probably turned into just this kind of guy. After Indochina, he went to places like Eritrea (mentioned in the book), the Kosovo and East Timor (not mentioned in the book).
It is amazing that a man like Jon Swain, who has been to so many war zones, who has seen so much evil, almost any major atrocity of the last decades, still can write so passionately and compassionately about all the suffering, that there seems to be no cap on the amount of pain he observes (and reports on). I would expect someone with that personal history to become blunt and a cynic.
The book describes life in Cambodia and South Vietnam during and after the Indochina war. It reports on the people in those countries, and how the war affects them. About people who sell their children in the hope that the purchasers will be able to feed them and provide for them, about the sailors on the river boats going through Khmer Rouge occupied territory to bring provisions to besieged Phnom Penh, while being under fire from both banks of the Mekong. About the inmates of a lunatic asylum in Phnom Penh. And about his girlfriend, who finally couldn't stand to live with a man who was risking his life with every assignment he took. But the most grisly scenes in my opinion are about what happened to some of the Vietnamese boat people.
It's a very interesting book for people who are interested in the little details of the Indochina war, that didn't make the headlines, and for people who are interested in learning about the vietnamese and khmer peoples.
Mehr über Kambodscha
Film: The Killing Fields
Buch: River of Time
Buch: Lucky Child
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