The Disappeared by Kim Eichlin
I could feel the heat and the dampness, hear the foreign language and the musicians, smell the foods and the air. I was awash in history in Cambodia, I was in the audience in Montreal clubs. Eichlin’s prose brought me there … but somehow it couldn’t bring the main characters to life. Without main characters to guide us, we wander lost through the story. That the setting lifted me so high made it all the more disappointing. Still, I would have named this the 2009 Giller Prize winner over The Bishop’s Man.
This book tells the story of Anne Greves from Montreal, who meets Serey, a Cambodian student forced into exile when he cannot return home during Pol Pot’s time of terror. Anne and Serey meet in a jazz club where their shared passion for music turns into a passion for each other, against the will of her father.
But when the borders of Cambodia open, Serey is compelled to return home, alone, to try to find his family. Left behind, and without word from her lover, Anne tries to build a new life but cannot forget her first love. She decides to travel to the war-ravaged country that claimed Serey. What she finds there is a traumatized and courageous people struggling to create new freedoms out of the tragedy that claimed their traditional ways, their livelihood, and a seventh of their population.