Showing posts with label Cambodia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cambodia. Show all posts

06 February 2021

Recensione: Fantasmi: Dispacci dalla Cambogia, di Tiziano Terzani (2008) ****

Sinossi

La Cambogia è stato uno dei grandi amori di Tiziano Terzani. La storia di questo piccolo regno, che custodisce al suo interno i misteriosi templi di Angkor, divenne per lui emblematica della storia dei paesi dell'Asia travolti nel corso del XX secolo dai giochi delle grandi potenze (USA, Cina, URSS). Terzani visitò più volte il Paese tra il 1972 e il 1994, divenne amico del suo re e nemico indignato degli assassini khmer rossi, per denunciare infine come ipocrita e immorale anche l'operato di pace da parte delle Nazioni Unite. 

Il libro, fondato sui reportage di Terzani dalla Cambogia, contiene anche il racconto scritto in prima persona della sua cattura da parte di combattenti ragazzini, dell'attimo in cui si salvò la vita con una risata - come amava raccontare - e circa cinquanta fotografie originali, scattate spesso da lui stesso.


Recensione

Terzani ci racconta gli orrori della Cambogia dei Khmer Rossi. In realtà ci racconta dei racconti che ha ascoltato, perché in quel periodo lui, come tutti i corrispondenti stranieri, in Cambogia non poteva entrarci.

Ciononostante il libro è una miniera d'oro di informazioni, e le riflessioni che Terzani ci propone molti anni dopo la fine del regime lo sono ancora di più.

Unica pecca, che ricorre negli scritti di Terzani sull'Indocina, è il persistente atteggiamento anti-americano e anti-modernità. Lui riconosce, con grande onestà intellettuale, di essersi sbagliato sui Khmer Rossi, ma negli anni settanta sembrava cercare sempre un motivo per dubitare delle denunce che urlavano gli scampati. Mentre ogni occasione è buona per accusare gli americani, che pure di colpe ne hanno avute tante, o anche i giapponesi, per il loro imperialismo economico.

Poi si rammarica che anonimi palazzi abbiano preso il posto delle catapecchie, ma non pensa che anche ai cambogiani possano servire acqua corrente e elettricità. Insomma una testimonianza appassionata e consigliata, ma viziata da un pregiudizio ideologico di fondo.

29 January 2021

Book review: The Gate, by François Bizot (2004), *****


Synopsys

In 1971, on a routine outing through the Cambodian countryside, the young French scholar Francois Bizot was captured by the Khmer Rouge. Accused of being an agent of American imperialism, he was chained and imprisoned. His captor, Duch, later responsible for tens of thousands of deaths at the Tuol Sleng prison, interviewed him at length; after three months of torturous deliberation, during which his every word was weighed and his life hung in the balance, he was released. No other Western prisoner survived. Four years later, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. Francois Bizot became the official intermediary between the ruthless conqueror and the terrified refugees behind the gate of the French embassy: a ringside seat to one of history's most appalling genocides.


Review

Bizot was incredibly lucky to see what he saw and come out alive, then move on to survive in Phnom Penh for several more years and write a harrowing and unique account of the Khmer Rouge rule. The gate of the French embassy, where many notables of the old regime had found refuge, and through which they will have to walk to their fate in the hands of the communists. A unique first-hand experience that very few western writers have been able to share so much in detail. He talks to many revolutionary soldiers and discusses politics as well as the details of day-to-day existence, the next harvest, education. Reading him is almost as good as having been there, without the dangers and the discomfort!

Read about my trip to Cambodia here.

See my reviews of other books on Cambodia here in this blog.



27 January 2021

Recensione: Mekong Story. Lungo il cuore d'acqua del Sud-Est asiatico (2006) di Massimo Morello,

Sinossi

Giornalista e viaggiatore, Massimo Morello presenta questo diario di viaggio nel Sud-Est asiatico lungo il Mekong: dal delta, sul Mar della Cina, sin quasi alle sorgenti, in un monastero buddhista nell'altopiano himalayano della remota regione del Qinghai. 

L'autore narra un percorso sul fiume e dintorni attraverso Vietnam, Cambogia, Thailandia, Birmania, Los, Cina e Tibet, tra foreste, montagne, paludi e valli incantate, piste polverose, sentieri di fango e superstrade, villaggi e metropoli, hotel di superlusso e locande malfamate. Un viaggio che l'autore ha compiuto da solo, in battello, bus, auto, a piedi, in un susseguirsi di avventure e disavventure che gli hanno permesso di osservare più da vicino quella che viene definita la nuova Asia.

Recensione

Un viaggio di sei mesi lungo un fiume lunghissimo. Anzi un meta-viaggio, dato che il percorso Morello lo ha fatto a varie riprese. Osservatore informato, ci racconta le sue esperienze rendendole rilevanti ed interessanti perché ci aiutano a capire i paesi che visita. Un libro di viaggio ma anche di storia e di politica, di costume e di gastronomia. Un ottimo compagno per chi vuol viaggiare in quelle terre, o lungo quel fiume.

Leggi qui altre mie recensioni di libri sull'Indocina.

28 December 2020

Recensione libro: Caduti dal Muro (2009) di Paolo Ciampi e Tito Barbini, *****

Sinossi 

C'era una volta il Muro e sembrava dovesse esarci per sempre. Poi però il Muro si sbriciolò e con esso crollò un impero che da Berlino arrivava al Pacifico. Di colpo tramontò il "sole dell'avvenire", sparirono mappe geografiche, bandiere, nomenclature. Ma cosa ne è stato di quei paesi? Per capirlo serve un viaggio lento, zaino in spalla e treno attraverso due continenti, dall'Europa orientale alla Russia, dalla Cina al Vietnam, dalla Cambogia ai Tibet. Un viaggio e un dialogo tra due scrittori divisi dall'anagrafe e dalle parabole della politica ma uniti dalla leggerezza e dalla fame di nuovi orizzonti. 


Recensione 

Riflessioni di viaggio (di Tito) e di storia (di entrambi) nelle terre che erano governate da regimi comunisti fino alla fine degli anni 80 del XX secolo. Il viaggio di Tito è occasione di ricordare un mondo che non esiste più, un mondo nel quale gli autori avevano creduto, assieme a milioni di idealisti in occidente che non avevano visto quello che veramente succedeva al di là del muro. Si impara molto leggendo questo libro, soprattutto chi non è stato in quei luoghi, in quei tempi. Prosa fluida, in certi punti del libro sembra di essere con loro, sia nel luoghi, sia nei tempi storici richiamati alla memoria. Unica piccola pecca: se abbondano le critiche a quei comunisti che hanno perso (URSS, Europa orientale) manca una critica dei crimini commessi da quei comunisti che hanno "vinto"specialmente in Vietnam. Per esempio durante la guerra contro l'invasore americano. Se i crimini americani sono giustamente evidenziati, non altrettanto lo sono quelli commessi dai nord vietnamiti e Viet Cong.

09 December 2011

Map Review: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Freytag & Berndt, ****

Description
Explore Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with this Freytag&Berndt road map. The best way to plan your trip, prepare your itinerary, and to travel independently in this part of Southeast Asia.

02 September 2004

Book Review: Cambodia, by Anita Sach, *****

Synopsis

A guide to the cultural attractions of this emerging destination. Explore the grand ruins of Ankor Wat's temples, as well as areas of Cambodia just opening up to travellers, with this practical and thorough guide.


08 May 2004

Book Review: "Sideshow: Nixon, Kissinger and the Destruction of Cambodia", by W. Shawcross, ****

Synopsis
Although there are many books and films dealing with the Vietnam War, Sideshow tells the truth about America's secret and illegal war with Cambodia from 1969 to 1973. William Shawcross interviewed hundreds of people of all nationalities, including cabinet ministers, military men, and civil servants, and extensively researched U.S. Government documents. This full-scale investigation—with material new to this edition—exposes how Kissinger and Nixon treated Cambodia as a sideshow. Although the president and his assistant claimed that a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia was necessary to eliminate North Vietnamese soldiers who were attacking American troops across the border, Shawcross maintains that the bombings only spread the conflict, but led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent massacre of a third of Cambodia's population.

22 October 2002

Book review: Voices of S-21 (1999) by David Chandler, ****


Synopsys

The horrific torture and execution of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge during the 1970s is one of the century's major human disasters. David Chandler, a world-renowned historian of Cambodia, examines the Khmer Rouge phenomenon by focusing on one of its key institutions, the secret prison outside Phnom Penh known by the code name "S-21." The facility was an interrogation center where more than 14,000 "enemies" were questioned, tortured, and made to confess to counterrevolutionary crimes. Fewer than a dozen prisoners left S-21 alive.

During the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) era, the existence of S-21 was known only to those inside it and a few high-ranking Khmer Rouge officials. When invading Vietnamese troops discovered the prison in 1979, murdered bodies lay strewn about and instruments of torture were still in place. An extensive archive containing photographs of victims, cadre notebooks, and DK publications was also found. Chandler utilizes evidence from the S-21 archive as well as materials that have surfaced elsewhere in Phnom Penh. He also interviews survivors of S-21 and former workers from the prison.

Documenting the violence and terror that took place within S-21 is only part of Chandler's story. Equally important is his attempt to understand what happened there in terms that might be useful to survivors, historians, and the rest of us. Chandler discusses the "culture of obedience" and its attendant dehumanization, citing parallels between the Khmer Rouge executions and the Moscow Show Trails of the 1930s, Nazi genocide, Indonesian massacres in 1965-66, the Argentine military's use of torture in the 1970s, and the recent mass killings in Bosnia and Rwanda. In each of these instances, Chandler shows how turning victims into "others" in a manner that was systematically devaluing and racialist made it easier to mistreat and kill them. More than a chronicle of Khmer Rouge barbarism, Voices from S-21 is also a judicious examination of the psychological dimensions of state-sponsored terrorism that conditions human beings to commit acts of unspeakable brutality.

Review

This book is a useful reference for raw data from some of the protagonists. It is not easy or pleasant reading, but it does constitute a useful addition to the library of anyone researching the Khmer Rouge.

12 September 2002

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

Synopsis

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.

Review

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!! :-)



03 September 2002

Book Review: Meet the Akhas (1996) by Jim Goodman, ****

A comprehensive introduction to the Akha hill tribals of Northern Thailand and their way of life includes a language section to enable you to talk tom your hosts. The Akha of Thailand, as well as those of China, are the same ethnic group as those we met in Laos. Their history and culture do not follow the political borders of the map.

02 September 2002

Bibliography: Books on Cambodia and Laos

ON BOTH COUNTRIES

Morello, Massimo: "Mekong Story. Lungo il cuore d'Acqua del Sud-Est asiatico", (Milano, Touring Club Italiano, 2006)

Gargan, Edward A.: "The River's Tale: A year on the Mekong" (New York: Knopf, 2002). One year savoring the beauty of the river.

Goodman, Jim: "Meet the Akhas" (Bangkok, White Lotus, 1996). A detailed account of a little-known minority.

Swain, Jon: "River of Time" (London: Vintage, 1996). An account of the final years of the Vietnam war.

Road Map: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Freytag & Berndt.

CAMBODIA

Bizot, François: "The Gate". A French tells of his hair-raising experience among the Khmer Rouge and then in the French embassy, where hundreds had sought refuge.

Chandler, David: "Voices from S-21". The most detailed research into the main torture center of the Khmer Rouge, lots of direct testimonies from the victims.

Fröberg Idling, Peter: "Il sorriso di Pol Pot" (Milano: Iperborea, 2006) Un gruppo di svedesi ha il privilegio di visitare la Cambogia dei Khmer Rossi e ne torna entusiasta: non capivano o non vedevano?

Gilboa, Amit: "Off the Rails in Phnom Penh", (Bangkok: Asia Books, 1998). Funny and not so funny anecdotes from the 1990s.

Sach, Anita: "Cambodia, Bradt Travel guide", (Bucks, England: Bradt, 2001). The best guidebook on Cambodia's culture.

Shawcross, William: "Sideshow: Nixon, Kissinger and the Destruction of Cambodia", (New York: Cooper Square, 2002).

Terzani, Tiziano: "Fantasmi: Dispacci dalla Cambogia". Raccolta di articoli del corrispondente tra la metà degli anni 70 e la metà degli anni 90 del XX secolo.  

Ung, Loung: "First they killed my father", (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 2001). The Khmer Rouge crimes as seen through the eyes of a child.

LAOS

Bounyavong, Outhine: "Mother's beloved" (Seattle: U. of Washington, 1999). Translations of Laotian tales with a good introduction.

Murphy, Dervla: "One Foot in Laos", (London: John Murray, 1999).An unusual journey on foot by a seasoned super leftist writer.

Footprint Guide: Laos Handbook, 2000, 2nd Edition. This was, at the time of my travel, the best guidebook available on Laos, but make sure you get the latest edition.

31 August 2002

Book Review: "First they killed my father", by Loung Ung, *****

Synopsis
An unforgettable narrative of war crimes and desperate actions from a childhood survivor of Cambodia's brutal Pol Pot regime.

16 August 2002

9. - 16 AUG: Border crossing into Laos, dolphins, Dong Khong

The last leg of the Mekong ride in Cambodia is the most difficult and adventurous. There is no scheduled public service from Stung Treng to the border with Laos, just after Kaoh Nang island. In fact, until very recently this border post was not officially open at all except to Lao and Cambodian nationals, though stories abound that anyone willing to fork out the necessary tips would be let through.

15 August 2002

8. - 15 AUG: Sambok monastery, and from Kratie to Stung Treng

Early in the morning we try and visit the Sombok monastery, the main cultural interest in Kratie, but it is about 10 kilometers out of town and in this rainy season it may be risky to get there – the Mekong is near its high-level mark, and the white-board which is updated daily near the gas station does not indicate any improvement for the next day or two. No choice, it's now or never, off we go...

14 August 2002

7. - 14 AUG: From Phnom Penh to Sambok, near Kratie

Sailing upstream

Again we are up at the crack of dawn. At the capital’s boat jetty, a few peddlers offer drinks and snacks. One, improbably, has a single copy of the International Herald Tribune for sale, the first international newspaper from any country I see in Cambodia. It comes from their Bangkok printing press and is two days old, but I am hungry for international news and do not hesitate to grab it at once. The presence of the Western printed press in Cambodia vaguely reminds me of the good old Soviet times, when everything was censored but I could, occasionally, buy newspapers from imperialist countries at the newsstands of international hotels in Moscow. The Soviet regime could tolerate that: few of its citizens would ever have a chance to access and read the subversive stuff – they could not even easily walk into the lobby of these hotels – and at least some of the Westerners in the Hotels would believe and go home telling that censorship in the USSR was not that strict after all. Anyway, there was the language barrier that would work as a further filter.

13 August 2002

6. - 13 AUG: Phnom Penh prison, killing fields, shooting range, massage at the restaurant and dancing!

I did not expect this to be a day of such intense and contrasting emotions, but here it was. In a few hours I had visited Khmer Rouge torture centers, mass killing fields, had practiced at an army shooting range, had been riding a motorbike recklessly around town, had been sensuously massaged at a restaurant table and had visited a local disco. It is not a normal thing for a capital city to hold a center of torture and an extermination camp cum mass grave at the top of its "must see" list for visitors. Phnom Penh is anything but your "normal" capital city, however. It was, only a quarter century ago, both the scene and the command headquarters of one of the most hard to believe genocidal displays of ruthless, mindless, aimless violence in human history.

12 August 2002

5. - 12 AUG: Vietnamese village and departure to Phnom Penh

Waking up at the crack of dawn was not so hard as I expected, even after several long days of uninterrupted walking in the jungle and amidst ruins in sweltering heat, aggressive humidity and repeated thunderstorms. Maybe my body clocks was still on West European time, so for me it was not early morning but only late evening on the day before... Our van took us out of town, toward the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake, a wide appendix of the Mekong which extends from Siem Reap, at the mouth of the city’s eponymous river, almost all the way to the capital. Here is the base of the ferry boat service to Phnom Penh. The night is just fading away, but the air is already warm. All around us, and everything on us, is already damp. By now I was getting used to being wet (be it because of rain or sweat) as the normal state of being; for the first time in my life I learnt not to even bother to wipe my face, arms or hands, I was just wet and clothes just stuck to my skin, all the time, full stop.

11 August 2002

4. - 11 AUG: Beyond Angkor: silk, coconut, miniatures and land mines

More Angkor

A second day at the ruins of Angkor and I begin to feel more comfortable in the company of the Khmer gods. The initial awe give room to avid curiosity about the individual pieces of art, the urban setting, the organization of that amazing ancient culture. Heat and humidity are merciless, but I am getting used to them...

10 August 2002

3. - 10 AUG: Angkor, Majestic Ruins and Tragic History

The mid-afternoon squall hit with but a few minutes’ warning. I was in the middle of a large courtyard at Ta Prom, negotiating my way amidst ancient crumbling stone walls and overgrown roots. The monsoon rain was thick, determined, unforgiving and very noisy, almost to the point of being overwhelming. The water level on the ground immediately began to rise (the ancient Khmer draining system either was wanting or was clogged up, and modern Khmer had not done anything about it yet) and after a half hour or so the awsome courtyard was transformed into a murky pond. Local guides waded across, ankle-deep in the murky water, looking for their clients who had sought shelter in those structures which still stand in defiance of centuries of assaults by both nature and man. As the rain pours from above my roofless temple tower I stood with a few others under the entrance vault; the walls were so thick that even without a roof I could keep dry if I was careful to keep my balance on the threshold. Inside the tower, a weird echo transformed our multilingual chatter in a true Babel...

09 August 2002

2. - 9 AUG: Enter Indochina, a little corruption and massage

After an uneventful flight, a tropical Summer night welcomed us at the airport of Siem Reap (pronounced Seem Reep), the modern city which rises next to the ruins of ancient Angkor – which means "the Capital" in Khmer, and was indeed the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th century to 1431, when the Emperors moved to Phnom Penh’s region. The air was hot, very hot, completely still, and invasively sticky under my shirt. Pearls of sweat began to form on my forearms as I descended the plane's ladder, before I even had a chance to touch the Cambodian soil. The few uncertain floodlights which punctuated our solitary airplane's parking area cast an eerie spell over the tarmac. After a short walk, we were directed into the arrivals building. At passport control, two lines formed under a battery of lazy fans which churned the air from the ceiling above: first we lined up to have our passports checked, then again to get a visa. Funny, usually you get a visa first and then have your passport checked and stamped, but never mind.