The Disappeared Paperback – Feb 23 2010
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Quill & Quire
Great love stories are inseparable from tragedy. Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina, Romeo and Juliet: for the iconic lovers in literature, things always end badly. Kim Echlin ups the ante in her third novel by placing her lovers against the backdrop of Pol Pot’s genocidal massacre in Cambodia. Anne Greves is a teenager in Montreal when she first encounters Serey, a Cambodian exile five years her senior, who has lost touch with his family since the borders of his native country were closed. Drawn together by a shared love of the blues, and over the objections of the girl’s father, Anne and Serey begin an affair. When the Vietnamese invade Cambodia and the borders are thrown open, Serey returns home to search for his family and vanishes, prompting Anne to embark on a dangerous journey to Phnom Penh to find him. Echlin’s project in The Disappeared is undeniably ambitious: she attempts to portray the twin currents of memory and desire while at the same time dramatizing the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, whose operative principle was “Better to kill an innocent person than to leave an enemy alive.” And she attempts to do all this in under 200 pages. It is perhaps inevitable that the novel’s execution fails to live up to its ambition. Finding a language to describe the vicissitudes of the heart is notoriously difficult. Any novelist who addresses the subject of romantic longing risks devolving into mawkishness, and Echlin frequently succumbs to this temptation. In some cases, the language is merely clichéd (“I was drowning in you”); in others, it employs overheated metaphor to communicate ineffable desire (“You were my crucifixion, my torture and rebirth”). When the lovers are reunited in Cambodia, the writing becomes even more overwrought: Anne opens herself to Serey as if she “could be unzippered front and back,” the lovers embrace as though “giving agonized birth to each other,” and are likened to “cannibals swallowing flesh and breathing prayers.” Echlin’s inability to adequately capture the lovers’ longing also infects the political aspects of the story, as when a pregnant Anne witnesses a Cambodian troubadour “singing his anguish to the sky,” which is juxtaposed with an image of “babies tossed and shot in the air.” The sequence should be horrific, but the overwritten comparison denudes it of much of its impact. The Disappeared is ultimately a love story, which means that things don’t turn out well. Anne returns to Montreal where she is implored “for love’s sake” to tell her story “before there’s nothing left.” This sequence, shot through with heartache and loss, should serve as the cathartic apotheosis of the book. Sadly, it is betrayed by the sentimentality of what has gone before. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"An elegiac, beautifully told memory-tale of obsessive love. ... On one level, the novel is a young Canadian woman’s bildungsroman; on another, a profoundly moving account of the genocidal horrors of the Cambodian killing fields and its terrible aftermath. Written in elegant, spare prose, The Disappeared confronts one of the most painful conflicts of our time; the collision between our private, personal desires and the brutal, dehumanizing facts of modern history.” - Jury, Scotiabank Giller Prize 2009
"Echlin's masterful novel of meetings, partings and cross-cultural love...Precise expressive... Powerfully vivid...Luminous...A complex expression of annihilating loss and eternal love that is best experienced, in a sense, like the final act of a tragic play: as something inevitable and beyond the calculations of reason. " - The Globe and Mail
"Echlin, one of Canada's finest prose stylists, approaches her subject with the delicacy and solemnity it deserves... A beautiful work of art . . . The Disappeared is an expert novel, which manages to penetrate to the aching core of the Cambodian tragedy.” - National Post
“Like her passionate narrator, Anne Greves, Echlin is not afraid to risk everything in this aching, heart-wrenching novel of young love aligned against human atrocity...A slender book of remembering, The Disappeared is unforgettable.” - Sheri Holman, author of The Mammoth Cheese
"Powerful and moving." - The Times (UK)
"Electrifying... The voice is singular and arresting. . . . This is a very sensual book, written in an aroused but taut and plain prose...Echlin's heroine is a risk-taker; so, on the literary level, is Echlin...Through [her] technical and stylistic virtuosity, allied with elliptical narrative brilliance, Echlin raises Anne's climactic ritual action to a level of tragic sublimity." - The Guardian (UK)
“The beautifully spare narrative is daringly imaginative in the details. . . . Echlin creates a sorrowfully compelling world . . . [in this] powerful, transcendent love story.” - Publishers Weekly
“The familiar tale of star-crossed lovers is revisited with gripping immediacy and compelling freshness in Kim Echlin’s The Disappeared. Writing with sensuality, yearning, and in a voice readers will not soon forget, Ms. Echlin reminds us of the potency of our first loves, and of their enduring ability to shape and haunt us.” - Stephanie Kallos, author of Broken For You and Sing Them Home
"A beautiful elegy...Anne Greaves' story unfolds slowly, in spare and moving prose through fleeting moments and in floods of memory." - Winnipeg Free Press
“A dance of words . . . [full of] beauty, grace, sensuality and power. . . . In what is a seemingly impossible feat, the form is carved perfectly to the task—the book balances on the beauty. . . . Echlin is able, by imagination and art, to take the reader on a journey...that travels into utter darkness but does not leave us in despair. . . . Echlin has wrought a work of singular beauty, a work which turns ‘human cruelty’ into the image of a particle of dust by a lover’s cheek, into the rhythm of the sentences that carry knowledge of the world so all may witness.” - The Chronicle Herald (Halifax)
"Despite everything written about Pol Pot's regime in Cambodia, it is still possible to be deeply shocked by the stories of two million who died in the killing fields, were tortured or simply disappeared... Echlin has written a love story that exposes in terrible detail the consequences for generations of Cambodians living through 'Year Zero'...An ambitious novel.” - The Independent (UK)
"Written with singular elegance, a polished, poetic, deeply affecting novel from a writer in impressive control of her craft." - The London Free Press
“Daring... Finely chiseled prose . . . Undeniably beautiful . . . [With] moments of genuine tension and power.” - The Telegraph (UK)
"A poignant love story and a memorable journey through a nation’s troubled past... Of all the tensions Echlin successfully negotiates in her novel — loss and recovery, betrayal and forgiveness, Eastern atrocity and Western indifference — the intersection of memory and language is the most nuanced.... Direct and devastating. She finds small acts of grace and dignity amid the suffering, and in this novel, it is these quiet gestures that speak the loudest. " - The Walrus
"[Echlin] renders the numerous Cambodians...with a vividness and urgency...The real story of The Disappeared is the author's longing to bear witness to buried lives...Echlin succeeds, bringing to her work...the 'infinite attentiveness that is love'" - The Gazette (Montreal)
“The impossibility of closure after great crimes, no matter how many tribunals and truth-and-reconciliation commissions we may launch, is the subject of Kim Echlin’s absorbing new novel... The Disappeared takes its place with such other chronicles of female desire as Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept or Pauline Reage’s The Story of O, here yoked to a history that makes it both larger and more keen" - Times-Colonist (Victoria, BC)
"A beautiful work of art. . . The Disappeared presents desire as an antidote to despair.” - Ottawa Citizen
"Remarkable...Radiant...Echlin manages to juxtapose the horrific depravity of the Pol Pot era and its brutal successor against the power and resilience of individual human courage." - The Calgary Sun
"Echlin's pristine prose–there's a poet in there somewhere—evokes the pull of eros as Anne searches for the man she loves in one of the world's most dangerous places. But Echlin is equally skilled at portraying the effects of trauma on the human spirit...The Disappeared does go to poetic lengths to come to grips with events too terrible to contemplate calmly." - NOW Magazine (Toronto, ON)
"Terrific...Well-crafted and moving...With her spare¿and unsparing ¿ prose, Echlin does a stellar job of communicating the enormity of the Cambodian genocide through the prism of the personal." - Edmonton Journal
"[A] moving enigmatic story." - More (Toronto, ON)
"[Echlin] summons the swirling passions of unfettered love, the blank panic of all-consuming grief and the devastating after-effects of holocaust ...with unsettling precision, making this novel a painfully emotional journey." - Metro (UK)
"Echlin has a vivid style all her own...Spare...Poetical...It's a story which will live long in the memory, as much for the way Echlin writes as for the subject matter." - Newham Recorder (UK)
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Top Customer Reviews
There are a few things that I found off-putting about the novel. First of all, the author writes in a series of first person recollections. I found the flow of thoughts to read in a disjointed and sometimes incoherent manner. I think this writing mechanism was supposed to represent the fragmentation of memories (and it did), but it also seemed melodramatic. Second of all, some phrases and conversations occured partially in untranslated French, and because of this I felt like I might be missing details in the story. But really, what bothered me the most was the portrayal of Anne and Serey's "love." I found myself wondering if what they had together could truly be defined as love. There was never a sense of the characters drawing strength or courage from each other. It seemed like their "love" made them secretive, anguished, reckless and even a bit self destructive. That is certainly not the kind of love that I aspire to.
Regardless, "The Disappeared" is a lovely story of survival, loss, sorrow and friendship. It paints a stark and honest picture of Cambodia and the struggles of its people. The secondary characters are intriguing and in many cases, more interesting than the primary characters. I thought "The Disappeared" was a good book, and a worthwhile read. However, if there is another book you are considering reading (and can't decide), I'd go with the other title first!
Kim's protagonist, Anne Greves, reflects from a distance of thirty years but her poignant love story is recounted with an ache that is as raw as the day her Serey became separated from her. The anguish, longing and endless love serves as a stark counterpoint to the circumstances in which it germinated. Like Gil Courtemanche's "Sunday By the Pool in Kigali", Kim's story imbues the indefatigable power of the human spirit trumping the depravities of mankind simply because it survives them.
Kim Echlin is a gifted writer who has given a wonderful novel of new first love, it's blossom and demise crafted with exquisite language and phrase.
Anne Greves is a sixteen-year-old living in Montreal, Canada when she meets Serey, a Cambodian who is 5 years older than she is and a musician. Immediately they begin a passionate, sexual relationship. One day Serey decides to return to Cambodia to find his family whom he hasn't heard from in over a year. A daring decision on Serey's part as Cambodia was suffering in the aftermath of Pol Pot's savage revolution.
Ten years pass by and Anne has never heard from Serey and decides to go to Cambodia herself to find him. Unbelievably, Anne finds him and their reunion is as passionate as it was ten years ago.
Anne stays in Cambodia with Serey, becomes pregnant with his child and is excited and anxious waiting for the birth of their child. One day Anne is overcome with fever and rashes and is admitted to a local hospital. The doctor examines her and finds out she has dengue fever. What about their baby?
Suddenly Serey disappears and Anne hires a taxi driver she has come to know, Mau, to drive her to another city named Ang Tasom where she suspects Serey to be. What does Anne discover?
A haunting novel that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.
Most recent customer reviews
I just finished this book and I could not put it down. Very sad in places, I even cried which I have never done while reading a novel. Read morePublished on Feb. 8 2010 by Carlita