The best books on Cambodia

The Books I Picked & Why

The Lost Executioner: The Story of Comrade Duch and the Khmer Rouge

By Nic Dunlop

The Lost Executioner: The Story of Comrade Duch and the Khmer Rouge

Why this book?

Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge communist-ruled Cambodia and drove its population onto rural communes where millions perished from murder and malnutrition. Countless well-researched books have been written on the subject. The Lost Executioner stands out for the commitment of its author. For years, photographer Nic Dunlop carried a photograph of Comrade Duch in his pocket as he traveled through post-war Cambodia, trying to understand the horrors inflicted on its population until he came face to face to face with the head of the Khmer Rouge secret police who was responsible for some 20.000 deaths. The Lost Executioner not only dissects the horror of recent Cambodian politics but also asks pertinent questions about the role of journalists in conflict zones.


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Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land

By Joel Brinkley

Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land

Why this book?

Cambodia, Joel Brinkley writes, is the most dangerous country in the world. The first one falls in love with it, then it breaks one’s heart. Cambodia’s Curse is a book of two tales. Brinkley’s retelling of the war years is a little revisionist but the chapters on the post-war reconstruction, the dirty politics, the lack of opportunities for ordinary people, and the venality of the government that remains in place to this day rightly and masterfully lay the blame for countless missed opportunities to create a more equitable society both into the hands of the international community’s attempts to create ‘democracy’ and Hun Sen’s regime.


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Carrying Cambodia

By Hans Kemp, Conor Wall

Carrying Cambodia

Why this book?

Books on Cambodia predominantly cover the communist revolution and genocide. Carrying Cambodia is a different proposition, a photo book that depicts the resourcefulness of ordinary Cambodians in the post-war era. The two authors/photographers spent considerable time on the back of motorbikes cruising the highways and by-ways of Cambodia to capture the incredible efforts its people have to make to get from A to B. Images of trucks, bikes, tuk-tuks, and cyclos unbelievably overloaded with people and produce give a candid impression of the daily struggle of citizens living in unjust, broken societies, but also celebrates a resurging Khmer spirit in the face of incredible challenges.


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The King's Last Song: Or Kraing Meas

By Geoff Ryman

The King's Last Song: Or Kraing Meas

Why this book?

This adventure novel follows the travails of a French archaeologist who finds an ancient manuscript telling of the life of Jayavarman VII, the greatest of Cambodia’s kings. Many of the Angkor temples were built during his reign. The manuscript and the archaeologist are promptly kidnapped by remnants of the communist Khmer Rouge and as he is forced to translate the document, the life and times of the ancient god-king are slowly revealed. The two time-lines sit a little uneasily together at times, but this novel provides a great introduction to both Angkor’s rise into southeast Asia’s greatest power, and more recently, the atrocities of the communist revolution.


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Ghost Money

By Andrew Nette

Ghost Money

Why this book?

Ghost Money is a gripping thriller set in late 90s Cambodia, as the country lurches violently out of its long-running civil war. Vietnamese-Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan has been hired to find businessmen Charles Avery who has disappeared in the chaos. Teaming up with a Cambodian journalist, Quinlan leaves the freewheeling capital Phnom Penh to the battle-scarred border to Thailand. As the political temperature soars, Quinlan is slowly drawn into a mystery that reaches back into Cambodia's bloody history. Ghost Money is a story about what happens to people trapped between the past and the present, the choices they make, and what they do to survive.


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