Sunday, January 17, 2010
No, there wasn't time to read, but there's no not reading Kim Echlin's The Disappeared. There's no easy way to summarize this gorgeous, disturbing book, either—taut as it is, urgent, spanning decades, rubbed into with the raw horror of the Cambodian genocide yet at the same time suffused with the unbrittle beauty of a country doused in the sudden gold of late afternoon and the "uncurtaining" of a full moon on the face of a canal.
Yes, of course—this book is about love. Impossible love. About a young woman—just sixteen—who meets a young man, a refugee of the Khmer Rouge regime, in a bar in Montreal. When Serey leaves Montreal for home, Anne Greves cannot follow. When she can, years later, she does. In that crippled, mottled, brilliant-hued country, there is only them, but that's not true (it never is). There are the wells of secrets, there are the mass graves of tens of thousands, there is the desperation of the survivors pitted against the atrocities of the dead.
Who can be saved from any of that?
Who can forget it, who won't be shaped by it, who will not live an entire life aching?
I was laughing the way I used to before my laughter hid things, before I lost love. There are lines like this. But I was no longer wedded to life. Neither was I yet married to death. I was memory and hope calculated to their smallest ratio.
Often, you read a book and you say to yourself: Ah, how well-constructed. How smart. How pretty or savvy the sentences. How clever.
There are other books, though, and they are much rarer, when you think: This writer had no choice but to make this book, and in making it, she lived it, and in living it, she left her very soul on the page. And you want to reach out to the writer, offer up your own sad bones of shelter.