In preparing to write this book review, I actually looked at a few plot summaries. I was surprised to find that it did not get great reviews from the pundits.
Ah well. I enjoyed the book.
Gregory Ryman, better known for writing science fiction, takes on a complex tale of several different generations of Cambodia and Cambodians in this book.
He intertwines stories from 3 different eras of the country’s history. Initially drawing one in with the story of King Jayavarman VII, Ryman then skillfully switches to a story of modern day Cambodia and then a story of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge period. Each of the tales really could stand on it’s own, and the connections are “just enough” that you do want to keep reading to see how things will further evolve.
The main connecting piece is the Kraing Meas, a book printed on Gold Leaf, discovered by a Expatriated Archeologist who is more Cambodian than many Cambodians, having grown up in the country, and finding he did not fit in any other place.
The Kraing Meas, loosely translated into the “Golden Treasure” is looked upon by the Modern day Cambodians as a piece of what is truly unique and good and true about their culture. The Archeologist, Luc, takes it upon himself to transport this book to the place where the damage done upon discovery will be repaired. Predictably, something worth that much in a third world economy has attracted the interest of many different parties. And beginning the transport, Luc is Kidnapped. Two generations of Cambodians then race to his rescue, William, representing the younger modern generation untouched by the war, and Map, representing perhaps, the worst of the survivors of the Khmer Rouge era. Intertwined into the main story is the actual story of the Kraing Meas- the story of King Jayavarman, and also the recollections of Map, as he attempts to relate to a variety of people, including William.
In conclusion, each man works tirelessly in many ways to ensure that the Golden Treasure can be shared with the Cambodian people. How it is shared, however, is unusual and creative and gives the book a very satisfying ending.
While some of the characters are indeed flattened, and seem to not have an independent point of view, I think frankly adding in many more points of view would simply clutter the book up.
So, I do recommend it, especially if you have an interest in South East Asia.