Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Anjali House Writing Workshop in Siem Reap, Cambodia - My introduction to many great stories and poems

Today begins  a project on The Reading Life in a way very different from my normal focus on literature but as I read the wonderful stories and poems written by the young people who participated in Sue Guiney's Anjali House Writing Workshop in Siem Reap, Cambodia I slowly began to see these stories almost as if literature was being rebuilt from Year Zero, a phrase with a terrible echo in Cambodian history.  Short stories and poems can liberate people and even ultimately save lives.  Thousands of years ago these vehicles helped  created the great faiths of the world that are the bedrock of human culture. Pal Pot wanted to destroy all human culture, to take Cambodia back to Year Zero.  These stories represent the triumph of the human spirit or maybe even its recreation. As Sue said in her must read introductory post, a command of English may one day allow an Anjali House student to be able to go to law school instead of peddling trinkets to tourists.   Cambodia is a known destination for pedophiles and maybe a young girl who can speak quality English will end up in medical school instead of in a brothel.

I know many know the terrible history of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge but not all do.  

In 1975, Cambodia was taken over by a group called the Khmer Rouge, led by Pal Pot. He had a vision of turning Cambodia into a purely agrian society, starting over at "year zero".  He ordered all residents of cities to vacate.   Under armed guard, often themselves children, millions were forced out of their homes to work in agricultural projects. Iintellectuals, ethnic Chinese, business people, those who wore glasses, those who gave the slightest resistance were executed.  This continued from 1975 to 1979.  It was in large part the destruction, destabilization, and atmosphere of terrible fear and suffering created by the senseless American bombing of Cambodia which created a society where this could happen.  About two million, twenty five percent of population,  died from disease, starvation, exposure and execution from 1975 to 1979.  It ended when the Vietnamese, the traditional enemy of the Cambodians, invaded the country in 1979

Almost all of the children benefiting from the programs of the Anjali House were brought up by survivors of these terrible events.  You can see this in the stories we will read as we hear of drunken abusive fathers, broken grandmothers, a longing for travel, tales of travels through the forest, a longing for a better life. We see the threads of fear and violence in these stories.  We must acknowledge some of the children's parents (perhaps as children themselves, participated in the killing fields and guarded slave camps.)  These conditions made it hard for their parents to trust others and you can see that in the stories.  But above that you see the children building hope, taking pride in their creativity and exorcising deeply buried demons.  

The stories and poems the children of Anjali House will be sharing with us are from the heart, deeply moving very honest works.   There will be at least twenty posts of literary works for this project, a specially commissioned poem by a well known Irish writer, and hopefully some guest posts.  


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