Spell of Harry Potter Cast in Khmer Translation

It’s a tale about the desperate plight of a downtrodden hero, a boy who was orphaned when an evil wizard killed his parents.

It could be the story of millions of Cambodians who suffered un­der Pol Pot and lost family members in the genocide the Khmer Rouge perpetrated.

But in this particular story, the young hero vanquishes his tormentor and saves his fellow students from doom.

Cambodians, known for their belief in superstition, sorcery and ghosts, can now read this story in the Khmer translation of “Harry Pot­ter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”—the first in a series of five books by British author JK Rowling. The series has smashed publishing re­cords for the number of copies of books sold worldwide.

Until this week, the first Harry Potter book in the series was available only in English in bookstores in Cambodia.

Eight months ago, Bernard Krisher, publisher of The Cambo­dia Daily and chairman of Amer­ican Assistance for Cambodia and Japan Relief for Cambodia, faxed   JK Rowling seeking permission to publish the “Sorcerer’s Stone” in Cambodia and in Khmer.

“It’s an intelligent, cultured society, but nothing has come out since Pol Pot,” Krisher said of the dearth of books in the country. “[Pol Pot] killed the culture, and he killed people’s desire to read.”

The “Sorcerer’s Stone” was trans­lated into Khmer by a translator for the Ministry of Culture, who consulted with about 15 children who read the first draft and submitted suggestions for corrections of certain terms.

One of the children consulted was 13-year-old Im Chanbo­ra­cheat, son of a Cambodia Daily employee.

He had seen all three Harry Potter movies on television before reading the books in English. When he read the Khmer version, he was impressed.

“The Khmer book is very good for Khmer children to read and know the story of Harry Potter,” he said.

“In my country, they always talk about ghosts,” he said. “Ghosts are magic. I [don’t] believe in ghosts, but I’m afraid of ghosts.”

Krisher distributed the first 300 copies of the book in Ratanakkiri province on Monday because the rural provinces have the least access to books, he said.

Children are required to pay $0.50 for the book because, he said, “the whole idea is that children have to sacrifice to read.”

Selling it at the much-subsidized rate of $0.50 will also deter photocopied versions from ending up in markets and bookstalls because it would cost more than that to photocopy a pirated version, Krisher said.

“Many books are pirated here. But…people will know they are actually paying more [for the pirated book].”

It has already sold between 50 to 100 copies in one school, he said.

In an effort to protect copyright, each book has been numbered so that Krisher can keep track of where they are being sold.

Monument Books on Norodom Boulevard in Phnom Penh was delivered 50 copies on Wednes­day afternoon and had sold six books by Thursday, without the help of advertising, and with the stipulation that only children can purchase the book.

The Harry Potter series has been translated into 55 languages and has sold an estimated 250 million copies. The first three books —“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azka­ban”—have been made into movies.

Only 10,000 copies have been printed in Khmer, with no immediate plans to do another edition.The publication costs were subsidized by a $15,000 grant by Toshu Fuk­ami, a Japan­ese philantrophist.


Related Stories

Latest News