Friday, December 9, 2011

5 Best Books About Cambodia

My next book is about Cambodia. It is not a Cambodia guide book, rather a collection of stories and observations, an evocation of contemporary Cambodian life. Whenever I have a spare moment I do some reading and research about that amazing place. But this is not just a recent interest. I have tried to read most of the new books about Cambodia since my first visit there in 1996, and so have managed to cover quite a lot of literary space in that time.
As more and more Australians visit Cambodia, there is a growing interest in Cambodian history and culture. These tourists want to learn about Cambodia, and prepare themselves for their trips by reading some relevant books. I was most privileged to have a prominent Australian publisher ask me to recommend my favourite books on Cambodia, as he was going there soon on a holiday and wanted to learn more.
So I thought I'd share my list with you, in case you were planning your own trip to Phnom Penh and teh temples of Angkor, or simply wanted to know more about one of the world's most beautiful places:

5 Best Books About Cambodia

1. Cambodia's Curse by Joel Brinkley - This one is up-to-the-minute, it's a terrific read, and he does know Cambodia well. Just a few months old, you should be able to get it easily in Sydney bookstores. It's a Cambodia book that doesn't pull any punches in discussing some of the cotemprary social malaises that the country still faces.

2. The Gate by Francois Bizot - An absolutely amazing book, you couldn't read a better account of the fall of Phnom Penh and the early days of the Pol Pot era. Bizot is a French academic (a world expert in Cambodian Buddhism) and was trapped in Phnom Penh when Pol Pot entered - his survival is a miracle. I can't overstate what an incredible book this is.

3. To Cambodia With Love by Andy Brouwer - Just came out this year, it's quite a lovely little book. Collections of observations and stories about different places/experiences in Cambodia written by different people. Packed full of information about Cambodia presented in a personal, but ultimately useful, way. Well worth reading.

4. Phnom Penh: A Cultural History by Milton Osborne - Osborne is an Australian and one of the world's leading experts on Cambodia. Travel in Cambodia will almost certainly involve a stint in its capital city, and Osborne's book is the final word in Phnom Penh's history and travails. You will find this fascinating. Should be easy to get in Sydney bookshops.

Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice by Ian Harris - It's quite readable and utterly fascinating. Info about Buddhism in Cambodia is very hard to find, which makes this book all the more precious. Points out how unique Cambodian Theravada Buddhism is, and how different from the Thai forms most Westerners would be familiar with.

Plus two extras:

- The Gods Drink Whiskey by Stephen T. Asma - Not just about Cambodia, this travel book is still filled with excellent information about Cambodia, and is a great read to boot.

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung - There are any number of books about the despair of the Pol Pot times. I have read dozens of them, but this is by far the best. Ung describes the destruction of Phnom Penh and the horrible years of oppression under Pol Pot.

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