12 September 2002

Book Review: Off the Rails in Phnom Penh (2000), by Amit Gilboa, ****


Phnom Penh in the 1990s is a city of beauty and degradation, tranquillity and violence, and tradition and transformation; a city of temples and brothels, music and gunfire, and festivals and coups...

But for many, it is simply an anarchic celebration of insanity and indulgence. Whether it is the $2 wooden shack brothels, the marijuana-pizza restaurants, the AK-47 fireworks displays, or the intricate brutality of Cambodian politics, Phnom Penh never ceases to amaze and amuse. For an individual coming from a modern Western society, it is a place where the immoral becomes acceptable and the insane becomes normal as they search for love in the brothels or adventure into the dark heart of guns, girls and ganja.


This is an easy book to read. You will earn a genuine view of how debauchery and flimsiness governed this place in the 1990s, at least from the point of view of some foreigners who are not exactly sure what they are there to do in the first place. The book is largely anecdotal and interesting for that. It almost totally lacks analysis, which one would have expected from a professional writer like the author. You can almost breathe the air in Phnom Penh while reading this book, you can feel high, but I am not sure how much you understand... but there are other books for that. If you are not a young and slightly nut Westerner but would like to experience Cambodia like if you were one... this book is for you!! :-)

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