People do not like to think of love as a crucifixion but I know now, thirty years later, that if a person is tough enough for love nothing less than rebirth will be required.
I thought about waiting to write this review until my reaction to this book was less raw, but I already have a very special post for Valentine's Day tomorrow and this book is a love story. It's not a romance. It's a love story in an epic, heartbreaking way. And it's not just a love story between a woman and a man, it's a love story between a man and his culture and country.
The Disappeared is the story of Anne and her big, all consuming love for Serey. They meet when she's 16, she's a student, he's in exile from Cambodia. They have an instant attraction and soon end up spending all of their time together. He's a musician, which would have been quite deadly for him if he was still in Cambodia. He tells her about Cambodia and his longing to know what is happening in his country. When Cambodia finally reopens, he goes back and Anne never hears from him again.
Until one day, she's watching the news and she think she sees him. She immediately heads to Cambodia to find him. And so begins her search for her lover in the land of the killing fields.
I was deeply affected by The Disappeared. I know about Cambodia and the horrible purge that took place there, but this gorgeously crafted novel takes all of the horror and embeds it within the intense loss one person feels. The sights and sounds of Cambodia feel so real and the stories of the cruelty that took place were worse than anything I could imagine. When I read these books about genocide and revolution and violence, I always feel conflicted. On the one hand, I think how could anyone anyone do this? And on the other hand, I marvel that life isn't like this everywhere, that we've managed to find fragile peace in some places in the world.
The Disappeared succeeds in doing what is necessary to bring home the horror of these kind of world events, by individualizing the experience. Anne and Serey's grief and loss is palpable. And the language...oh the writing is so beautiful and perceptive I find myself wanting to quote the entire book.
I saw the world more sharply with you, as if I had put on new lenses, the left a little stronger than the right, but worn together they shaped blurred edges into clear lines. There were moments I would have liked not to see so sharply...I wanted to know everything about you. I was young and but slenderly knew myself.
Just a few structural notes...the book is told in first person as if Anne is speaking to Serey. It follows a linear fashion most of the time, but she does drop hints of what's to come in earlier narrative, giving you just a hint of mystery and wondering what will happen next.
The Disappeared is an achingly beautiful novel about love, about remembering the individuality of those lost, about how the people that are left behind who lost loved ones carry their lives within their own, how they live in their memory. It devastated me and left me feeling I had experienced so much loss myself. So, I guess, mission accomplished.
(thanks to Beth for recommending this novel)
The strangeness of my love for you is that it has made me dead in life and you alive in death. I am afraid you will disappear and no one will remember your name.
Things You Might Want to Know: a bit of language and sex.
Source of Book: Bought it
Publisher: Black Cat (imprint of Grove Atlantic)