A short story entitled Widow of Five Husbands – which was written in 1973 by a talented author of Khmer literature who rose to fame in the 1970s and 1980s – was recently reprinted by Kampu-Mera Editions, a publisher whose mission is to preserve the works of Cambodian writers from past eras.
The story was written by Chuth Khay, a teacher and writer for Nokor Thom newspaper who was also a civil servant from 1966 to 1980.
Khay was born on October 30, 1940 in Kampong Cham province. He attended primary and secondary school in his hometown. In 1966, he graduated from the Higher School of Pedagogy and became a lecturer at Chhouk Secondary School in Kampot province, according to his biography found online.
In addition to his work as a teacher, he continued his studies at the Faculty of Law until his graduation in 1968. In the same year, he moved to Santepheap High School in Kampong Speu province.
After General Lon Nol’s coup on March 18, 1970, Khay enlisted in the army with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Later, in 1971, he held the post of chief of the administration of the military tribunal.
Khay was appointed Acting Dean of the Faculty of Law and Economics for the 1973-1974 academic year and he lived in squalor and hardship but escaped execution by hiding his identity during the regime of the Khmer Rouge of 1975-1979, and fortunately he survived their massacres.
He fled with his family to Khao I Dang refugee camp in Thailand in 1979 and was granted political asylum in France in 1980. Eventually he acquired French nationality and changed his name to Khay Chance. He is now 81 years old and lives near Paris. .
Khay has written many short stories, some of which have become very familiar to the general public. He had a talent for writing that allowed him to express his ideas in new ways by incorporating Western customs and cultural influences and his short story Widow of Five Husbands presents some of these Western ideas, with a title that has a quality secret or mysterious. , as he wrote in 1973.
In June, The Widow of Five Husbands was selected by Kampu-Mera Publishing for re-edition as it stood out as one of the best of Khay’s many short stories, which also includes such well-known works as Pagoda Kid in the Time of the Time. French, sentimental baby buffalo, young boy in French school and ghouls, ghosts and other hellish creatures.
Khay once wrote that people – be they Cham, Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer, Laotian or French – who have free time to spend together, male or female, will always end up making sex jokes at some point.
The author goes on to say that the widow of five husbands is not like author Soth Polin’s story Inconsiderate Butt Sticking Out, which he said he considers shameful and accepted the decision of the ban because Cambodian society is too shy to handle it.
However, he noted that after the ban, the book sold even better than before and it became hard to find, so the price was four or five times higher than a typical book. , indicating that Cambodians’ curiosity about sexual matters was no different than any other book. country, whether they have always expressed it or not.
So Phina, co-founder and director of Kampu-Mera editions – which was established in 2015 – said their publishing house publishes works in the form of novels, old and new, short stories as well as translations of foreign literature .
She said Kampu-Mera also wants to send positive messages to readers and promote creative literary works.
“Because Chuth Khay has many short stories, including those recently written by him that are in line with Kampu-Mera Editions’ goals, we decided to re-release his novella Widow of Five Husbands for the first time. story was originally published by the publishing house SIPAR in 1973,” she said.
Describing the context in which the story was written, she explains that it was in the early 1970s and that Cambodia was in the throes of civil war and suffered from the US bombing campaign and then the beginning of the era. of the Khmer Rouge.
“Most Cambodians were living in a stressful situation, having been evacuated from their hometowns to rural areas, they were rounded up to live together on communal farms,” she said. “Khay wrote this short story which has a lot of humor mixed in with other social realities related to lifestyle, cheating, cheating, studying, working, choosing a partner or preparing for her children at the wedding so that the reader is relieved of stress, because it was a time of great social unrest in Cambodia.
Khay’s word choice reflects the language of the time, and Sophina suggests that readers consider the whole story and the context in which it was written instead of focusing on criticism of the language used.
“However, this story reflects the reality of the past and has historical value for modern readers. After reading the story, readers can make comparisons according to fundamental theories of literature in the past and present,” she said.
In addition, Kampu-Mera Editions also plans to continue publishing more out-of-print literary works in Khmer to help preserve them as literature and part of Khmer cultural heritage.
Without some effort to preserve them, these works could be lost, as some were in old books without original editions – only photocopies of photocopies remain, and they will eventually lose their definition on the page and become unreadable, explains she.
Huot Socheata, founder of Avatar Publishing, also praised Khay’s talent following a phone conversation between them.
“I just hung up the phone with an important person, someone I respect the most. His name is Chuth Khay. He was not only a prolific writer, but also a great translator and lover of literature. And he was very humble. He helped me by reading my stories and giving me advice and encouragement,” Socheata said.
Other works by Khay include: Demise of the Nation, a personal biography and translations of The Centurions by Jean Larteguy, The Wall by Jean-Paul Sartre and The Ambassador by Morris West, in addition to numerous short stories, some of which have been released as recently as 2018.