Novel Fails at Satirical Khmer Rouge Stories

“Khmer Rouge End Game” by Paul Ryder Ryan, a self-described foreign expert, is not a novel you are likely to find anywhere outside Phnom Penh or the basement of the author’s Massachusetts home, where the remainder of the first and only print run is surely moldering.

For readers with little time, this review can be summarized in a two-word public service announcement to those who might be tempted to actually find, buy and read this book: “Please don’t.”

The longer message is that the narrative is loosely organized around a group of six cardboard-cutout characters who are kidnapped by Ta Mok, the Khmer Rouge jungle leader. Two hardy survivors go on a killing spree of revenge against the Khmer Rouge—but don’t let that distract you.

The book is really about tortured prose, the vanity press, hubris and burning bridges.

Although the awful writing is enough to earn this book first place in the “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night” contest for purple prose, that may almost be forgiven. After all, Mune­wata Press gets paid to print books like these, not edit them—or even run a spell-check on them, for that matter.

Indeed, the violence done to the printed word is a minor charge. The more serious crime here is the cheap or even reckless use the author makes of real people and actual serious events in Cambodia’s recent history.

In this novel, history is not used merely as a backdrop, but is imported wholesale in the form of short, clun­ky digressions disguised as dialogue.

Ryan’s utterly un­sympathetic protagonist is Art Kil­mer—called AK, or sometimes even AK-47—a ruggedly handsome art professor and an endlessly pedantic schmuck. Kilmer knows, and tells, everything about Cambodia, or at least everything a diligent tourist might have learned after a couple of weeks in Phnom Penh.

Here’s an example of a typical exchange between the good professor and his AIDS-infected lover, Seraph Templeton:

“Hey,” he added as an afterthought, “Did you know that Shawcross, the author of ‘Sideshow,’ was the son of Lord Shawcross, the chief British prosecutor at Nuremberg?”

“No,” Seraph replied, her eyes riveted on the chest hairs exposed at the top of AK’s shirt. “Are you sure?”

But there are other, more blindingly stupid characters peopling this book. Khmer Rouge figures such as Ta Mok and Pol Pot are featured as comic-book villains, while idiot tourists, blithe CIA agents and glib captives wander around making lame wisecracks.

Also featured are actual Cambodian and foreign reporters and scholars. Some, including Nate Thayer and Ben Kiernan, have the dubious honor of being named and used to ad­vance the narrative, such as it is.

Thinly disguised human rights workers and scholars are used in fictionalized composites who happen to work at actual organizations, such as the Yale Genocide Project.

The fiction is as offensive as the semi-fiction. Ryan makes light of such serious topics as cannibalism, torture and rape. It is, at base, a 192-page very unfunny sick joke.

Perhaps the writer is attempting to be tongue-in-cheek and perhaps the extreme unseemliness of every page is really a biting satire of something or another.

But we doubt it.

 

 

 

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