Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge: a glimpse of hope and hardship in decade before catastrophe

‘A New Sun Rises Over the Old Land’, translated into English for the first time, captures the zeitgeist of 1960s Cambodia and its accompanying hope.

A New Sun Rises Over the Old Land: A Novel of Sihanouk’s Cambodia, by Suon Sorin (translated by Roger Nelson). Published by NUS Press. 5/5 stars

A rare and precious glimpse of pre-Khmer Rouge literature, Suon Sorin’s A New Sun Rises Over the Old Land, originally published in 1961, harks back to Cambodia’s late colonial and postcolonial eras under monarch-turned-politician Norodom Sihanouk.

Apart from the conclusion and prologue, in which protagonist Sam, the driver of a cyclo three-wheel bicycle taxi, is on his way to attend a National Congress as a delegate, the entire book is set in flashback. Cambodia’s attainment of independence in 1953 sets a chronological marker of a before and after.

Sam has, with wife Soy, left his conflict-ridden home in northwestern Battambang province for the capital Phnom Penh. His life in the city is one of hardships, which they must navigate. Their daily existence is tested by injustice, poverty, greed and hope.

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