International Writers Magazine: Review
The Khmers by Antonio Graceffo
David Calleja review
For anybody going to Cambodia seeking real adventure with real
people, you do not need a guidebook; you need this book.
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 Cambodias 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 Cambodias
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 Brooklyns 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
Cambodias 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 Antonios
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 Rouges purge who is educating a
new generation of students Cambodias 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, www.hackwriters.com, www.foreignpolicyjournal.com www.tsoham.info 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.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbA9PGsik18 and http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7573175720586762344
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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