Cambodians, Swedes Share Literature in Book Project

Pal Vannarirak’s poetry amazed Swedish readers in No­vember, when his poems ap­peared in the Swedish literary magazine, “Word and Image,” Editor-in-Chief Ylva Gustaffson said.

“It’s full of blood and real-life stories,” so unlike poetry written in Sweden nowadays, she said.

One poem, for example, de­scribes Cambodians dancing in the moonlight after a day of harvest, and talks of the Khmer Rouge who forced people to work all night. Pal Vannarirak’s poems also appear in a book, titled “Preah Chan Srok Khmer,” or “The Moon in Cambodia,” in Khmer and Swedish, published by the Literature Association Cambodia-Sweden.

The book was launched in Phnom Penh during a literary evening Saturday, marking the association’s first publication. About 100 people attended the event. The group was founded in Oc­tober to en­courage Cambo­di­ans and Swedes to discover each other’s lit­erature, said Anna Mattsson, a writer and founding mem­ber.

Cambodian writers tend to talk about political or social issues, while their Swedish counterparts concentrate on personal matters, she said. For example, Pal Van­narirak has a poem on traditional treatment for pregnant women, and one on prostitution, said Matt­sson.

These themes startle Swedes as much as Swedish themes surprise Cambodians, said Gustaf­f­son, who chairs the association in Sweden.

A Swedish poem about a modern virgin, and one about a wo­man who wishes she were a tree, have puzzled Cambodians, she said. These poems will be part of a Khmer book of Swedish poetry—the association’s next project.

The group also plans to publish books of children’s literature, said Neth Sary, the association’s chairman in Cambodia. A Swedish work, titled “Piggy,” soon will be translated into Khmer, he said.


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