Friday, November 9, 2012

Gates of Ivory

Back in 1991, Cambodia rarely featured in any novel that I was aware of. So it came as something of a surprise when I heard that one of Britain's best known female novelists, Margaret Drabble, had set her book, The Gates of Ivory, partly in Cambodia. Drabble, it turns out, had been to the border camps on the Thai-Cambodian border and penned her experiences in Harper's Magazine in April 1989. "I was going to Australia and I spent a fortnight on the way. And then I went back the following year. So I made two visits to that part of the world for research. But I had been interested in the story of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge for a long time," said the author in an interview.
Here's a brief summary of the book, from the publisher.
In The Gates of Ivory, Liz Headland, a London psychiatrist blessed with a successful practice, and amicable divorce, and independent children - all the comforts of the modern world - receives a cryptic package in the mail. Inside are drawings of Cambodian temple ruins, fragments of a novel by her old friend Stephen Cox, and two points from a human finger bone. The package is a message, apparently from Stephen, which Liz can decipher only by retracing its sender's journey from the safety of England to the chaos and corruption of Southeast Asia. As Margaret Drabble interweaves the odysseys of Liz and Stephen, she ushers the reader into a world that would be colourful were it's horrors not so authentically portrayed - a world of entrepreneurial beauty queens and media superstars, of ideological butchers and permanent refugees. It's one of Drabble's most memorable novels - a successor to The Radiant Way and A Natural Curiosity. It is scalding in its indignation and riveting in its narrative drive. She recreates nothing less than the end of our century. With all its huge betrayals and small apocalypses intact.
In addition, Dame Margaret Drabble DBE - to give her the correct title - is also patron of the Cambodia Trust, of which she says; "The Cambodia Trust has been working  for twenty years in the most sustained and farseeing  ways to improve the lives of the disabled in Cambodia and beyond, and has many enabled lives to its credit. I first became interested in Cambodia when I was writing about the epic tragedy in the days of Pol Pot, and it has been important to me to be able to keep this practical link with what is happening today."

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1 Comments:

Anonymous John Weeks said...

I found it a thoroughly English attempt to apprehend Cambodia. I'd say the book is useful to its audience (Western readers) in the way it invokes and cautions against common colonial tropes. Also, it doesn't assert itself to be the final word on Cambodia.

November 11, 2012 at 2:03 PM  

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