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The International Writers Magazine: Review

Rediscovering The Khmers by Antonio Graceffo
Gom Press
ISBN: 978-1932966565
David Calleja review

For anybody going to Cambodia seeking real adventure with real people, you do not need a guidebook; you need this book.

Antonio Graceffo’s fifth book, Rediscovering the Khmers, represents a break from his traditional sojourns because unlike his previous works, this is a sponsored tour where he travels around the countryside to promote Cambodian destinations to the rest of the world. It is a journey that switches deftly between linking Cambodia’s proud and tragic past, and the present day transition towards Asian tiger economy status courtesy of a tourist-led boom, seemingly at the expense of abandoning Cambodia’s most vulnerable members of society. These include tribal people living near the jungle whose livelihoods are threatened, ethnic minorities such as the Cham Muslims who want nothing more than to co-exist peacefully with their neighbours, and the ever growing masses of people living well below the poverty line.
As he intricately crosses through provincial Cambodia and exposes us to new ways of seeing what the country can offer, Graceffo, the self-styled adventurist, author and martial arts connoisseur, can add the title of Brooklyn’s cultural ambassador to the Khmer Kingdom. As he rides on the back of a motorcycle in provincial Siem Reap, you will find yourself kissing the dust, gazing straight into the eyes of oxen, being swamped by curious adults and children and racing past flooded rice fields and krama wearing men and women walking alongside the road. His re-counting of the roles of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Catholicism and animism in Cambodia’s society is poignantly integrated throughout his journeys, for religion and spiritual rituals bind together the legends and beliefs of Cambodia and its people. Adopting the role of tourist allows the author, and ultimately the reader, to view the nation and unique people from a new perspective, proving that there is so much more to Cambodia to just a day tour of the Angkor Wat and the Khmer Rouge.
Of course, no adventure can be without frustrations and miscommunications, some of which grace here because we are all party to such incidents. There are also plenty of moments throughout this book when we are re-united with musings that only the Boy from Brooklyn can produce. Readers familiar with his work will most definitely relate to attempting to by-pass the rule of paying $USD40 for a 3 day entry pass for the Angkor Wat by posing as a Khmer-speaking war orphan with Chinese ancestry that was adopted by an American family in Brooklyn. Only Graceffo would have the audacity to order a kosher vegan meal in Sihanoukville, and it takes a man of conviction to lecture his potential life saver, forest ranger and former soldier about firearm safety when asked to grab onto the wrong end of a fully loaded AK-47 whilst in danger of being swept by a strong river current, and still survive a hiking trail in what was once a Khmer Rouge death march. What sets this book apart is that Antonio introduces us to ordinary people that are the real heroes of Cambodia because they have survived years of war, malnourishment, poverty and corruption but somehow continue to smile and live resiliently.
The social commentary is precise and neatly entwined with each new encounter. Throughout his interviews, you will find yourself agreeing with Antonio’s sentiments that, “the kindness of the Khmers is matched only by their desire to restore the former glory of their country.” This is particularly evident in meeting individuals who are doing so much to help fellow Khmers, such as Akira, a former soldier and the de-miner in Siem Reap who has his own landmine museum and helps educate some of the poorest children and Grandmaster San Kim Sean, the sole surviving Bokator teacher from the Khmer Rouge’s purge who is educating a new generation of students Cambodia’s lost martial art. Anybody who takes the time to explore Cambodia properly will meet these people too, as well as the numerous organizations that help empower local populations and deliver lessons about the true meaning of development.
Readers will understand from this book that Graceffo goes into Cambodia rather than just goes to Cambodia, a distinction that Andrew Marshall, famed author of The Trouser People who crossed the border into Burma to meet the rebels fighting the Burmese military junta and victims of the Burmese genocide, another mission that Graceffo has also undertaken. Marshall states that going to a country involves travelling across borders, seeing tourist icons and securing bragging rights. Going into a country outlines a specific mission that would assist or educate an audience or population. Graceffo in his element when adopting the persona of a modern day Ernest Hemingway, pioneering his way through unchartered paths.
In declaring Rediscovering The Khmers his best book to date, existing followers need no further convincing that Antonio Graceffo is capable showing us new ways of to extract most out of a destination and still leave everybody hanging around for more. This is a shining example of outlining life in Cambodia as it is and as well as yearning for what it should be in a just world. Ultimately, you will find yourself becoming a “Grasicple.”
David is a contributor to Hackwriters and Foreign Policy Journal. His works have also been included in SOHAM (Society of Harmony and Magnanimity) and Tales of Asia. View his submissions by visiting the homepages,, and
Also, see his video A Garbage Diet, about life for residents in the compounds of Stung Meanchey Municipal Waste Dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. and
If you have already viewed the film, please pass this link onto colleagues or anybody else that you know who may be interested.

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