“All my life, … I have been preoccupied with the great tragedy of losing family in wars.
The pain of losing a parent or a child in (an act of) violence that is purposefully and directly generated by political forces is in a certain way harder to bear than if someone dies in, say, an accident. The death feels more preventable” – Roger Waters. The novel The Disappeared by Kim Echlin, is based on the Pol Pot Cambodian genocide, a time of terror (1975-79). In the novel, two young lovers from Montréal, fight through hell and back to fight for their love.
Anne, the main character, must let her lover Serey go in order for him to save his family who live in Cambodia. Years pass and she does not hear a single word from Serey, until she sees him on local news. She makes a tough decision to leave her own family and go look for her long lost love.
Leaving everyone behind, Anne finds herself in Cambodia looking for a certain someone. Anne asks around if anyone has seen Serey and his family, but unfortunately she does not get the news she wants to hear. Unable to find answers, she heads toward a local pub to help her relax, only to find Serey performing there. Instantly, Serey notices Anne and their young love rekindles. Anne then gets pregnant and Serey finds most of his family. All seems like a happy ending, until Serey dies along with Anne’s unborn child. Although Kim Echlin incorporates several aspects of her own life by displaying political, economical and social issues into her novel The Disappeared, it is evident that the exploration of Echlin’s values of survival, resilience and moral beliefs are prominent throughout the novel. Echlin incorporates several political aspects into her book through Pol Pot, a Cambodian politician who leads Khmer Rouge.
In her novel, Echlin displays her willpower to survive through the main character, who prepares for anything that may come in her way, such as her lover abandoning her, crossing borders and caring for an unborn child. Anne faces the unbearable pain of her lover leaving her to go save his family. Everything Anne fears comes true when Serey says “I have to go back, I have to find my family” (Echlin 44). Although Serey cares for Anne, he loves his family more.
To him Anne is not as important than saving his family from Pol Pot. As a heartbroken woman, Anne finds herself looking for a certain someone in the crowd even though she knows it is impossible. Anne pays close attention the the screen until “The camera panned the crowd and I was sure I saw you in the crowd” (Echlin 52). Anne knows it is a sign for her to go and see Serey. Throughout the novel, Anne infers Serey is no longer alive, but she sees Serey on the news and that is all it takes for her to jump on a plane heading for Cambodia.
Echlin, a mother of two, knows what it feels like to take care of someone other than herself. When her life is in danger, she not only has to think for herself, but also her two children at home. “She adds the first seeds of the novel were plante some six or seven years ago on a trip to Cambodia with her husband and two daughters. A Cambodian woman approached her in a market and began speaking to her in english. ‘She said to me, my whole family died during Pol Pot'” (Quill & Quire). As a writer, Echlin does not prepare to fight off the unknown, but she has a way with her words. In this case, she translates a book for street thugs in exchange for her safety.
In her novel, she makes her character fight off all the evil glares from unpleasent people, due to her pregnancy. Echlin’s thorough research on Khmer Rouge, helped her build a stronger and realistic character throughout the novel. Echlin showcases several economical aspects into her book through the Vietnam occupation and the United Nations Transitional Authority, which forces Cambodia to close their borders, letting nothing in or out. In her novel, Echlin demonstrates her resilience through the main character, who could not look for or find a job due to the war, is indirectly helping the opposition stop foreigners from coming into the village, and almost dies due to the lack of doctors.
Anne tries to help out by looking for a job, but due to the fact there is a war going on, she can not find somewhere to work. Echlin states in an interview with Dawn news that “‘…my parents came out of the social upheaval of an economic depression and a World War'” (Dawn news). Echlin places her own life experiences into her character who faces a tremendous amount of issues that involve finding a job during the war.
Throughout the novel, Anne stands up for what she believes is right, She will go through so much trouble to prove a point because she knows what she believes in is right. Although Anne makes rash decisions throughout the novel, she knows how to stay safe. Until she realizes Serey is one of the rebels who stops foreigners from coming into the village. “‘Will knew they were targeting people like you who worked for the opposition’. Later, when I accused him of silence, he said with a shrug, I never interfere with lovers'” (Echlin 134). Anne never asks Serey what he does, but when she does ask, she gets an answer she does not want to hear.
Serey helps the opposition steer tourists away from the village, which causes the economic problem to double. Due to the fact there is a war, there is no money for the government to put aside for health care. When Anne is ill, she cannot see a doctor due to the lack of resources and the lack of funding, which steers doctors away. “‘I must find a doctor.
‘ There were so few doctors. You drove me in the sidecar to Calmette Hospital” (Echlin 145). Echlin creates an understanding with readers of what the UN and Vietnamese occupation have so much more to do with than just a war.
Echlin exhibits several social aspects into her book through racism and sexism. In her novel, Echlin displays moral beliefs through the main character who would be criticized for dating a non-white male, is always a target in third world countries, and would be underestimated and poorly treated. At the beginning of the novel, Anne falls in love with Serey at the age of 16 and is told she is too naive for love. On top of that, people give her weird looks for being with a tall, dark and handsome guy who is 5 years older than her. Her father especially does not approve of the relationship but Anne argues against him saying “‘He is not too old for me. You don’t even know me'” (Echlin 17).
Women, white women in particular, are always a target in third world countries because people believe they are wealthy and can get something out of them; Echlin herself was almost robbed. “‘I thought, Oh God, they are going to steal my money, they hated it,’ says Echlin now. Instead, they told her, ‘That was pretty good,’ and left'” (Quill & Quire). Instead, Echlin translates a story in exchange for her safety due to the fact she had no money at the time. This goes to show that any white female can be a target in an everyday situation.
In the novel, Anne is always thought to be misjudged or thought of very poorly just because she was a woman. “I once saw a man pass money to another man and receive a young girl in exchange” (Echlin 179). It is not just Anne in the novel, there are other girls in the real world, which men or other women treat very poorly. As a woman, Echlin uses sexism throughout her novel alongside racism, because they are two of the most social injustice topics. In conclusion, in the novel The Disappeared by Kim Echlin, it is evident that the political, economical and social issues are addressed throughout the novel. The referencing of Khmer Rouge throughout the novel enforces the political aspect of the novel. The economical reference used in the novel is the Vietnam occupation and the United Nations Transitional Authority. The aspect throughout the novel is demonstrated through the use of racism and sexism.
Echlin’s survival, resilience and moral beliefs are visible throughout the novel. Works CitedEchlin, Kim. The Disappeared. Ulverscroft, 2010.Farrukhi, Asif.
“INTERVIEW: Canadian Author Kim Echlin.” DAWN.COM, 14 June 2015, www.dawn.com/news/1187991.
“Kim Echlin’s Cambodian Connection.” Quill and Quire, 4 Sept. 2009, quillandquire.com/authors/kim-echlins-cambodian-connection/.