The Disappeared. Kim Echlin. 2009. Grove/Atlantic. 224 pages.
Mau was a small man with a scar across his left cheek. I chose him at the Russian market from a crowd of drivers with soliciting eyes. They drove bicycles and tuk tuks, rickshaws and motos. A few had cars. They pushed in against me, trying to gain my eye, to separate me from the crowd.
When Anne Greves, our heroine, was sixteen she met the love of her life, Serey, a Cambodian student and musician. The relationship is intense from the start. One of the many reasons why Anne's father objects--that and the age difference between the two. But. Her father can't keep these two apart. But where her father might fail--a war-torn country just might. For Serey is determined to return to Cambodia as soon as the borders open. He is determined to return to his country, to try to find his family. While he loves Anne, he doesn't always understand her. And she doesn't always understand him either. She wants him to remain safe in Montreal. She wants for him to be hers. She wants a happily-ever-after.
But. He does leave her. And for a decade, she hears nothing from him. But he is not easily forgotten. (She even learns his language.) And when she sees him--or thinks she sees him--on television, well, her mind is made up. She will go to Cambodia to find him, to be with him. He still has her heart.
The Disappeared is her story of how powerful and enduring love is. Of how heartbreaking it is. How the loss of it can overwhelm you, shape you. It's an emotional story--beautifully written.
Here are a few passages I'd like to share:
People do not like to think of love as a crucifixion but I know now, thirty years later, that if a person is tough enough for love nothing less than rebirth will be required (21)
The ocean has one taste and it is salt. (25)
There were those who could not reveal themselves, the torturers, the prison guards, the soldiers. For them there was no exhilaration in language. Virtue is terror, terror virtue. Without slogans, they found themselves speechless. (116)
I see your long silence as I see war, an urge to conquer. You used silence to guard your territory and told yourself you were protecting me. I was outside the wall, an intoxicating foreign land to occupy. I wondered what other secrets you guarded. Our disappeared were everywhere, irresistible, in waking, in sleeping, a reason for violence, a reason for forgiveness, destroying the peace we tried to possess, creeping between us as we dreamed, leaving us haunted by the knowledge that history is not redeemed by either peace or war but only fingered to shreds and left to our children. But I could not leave you, and I could not forget, and I did not know what to do, and always I loved you beyond love. (120)
Why do some people live a comfortable life and others live one that is horror-filled? What part of ourselves do we shave off so we can keep on eating while others starve? If women, children, and old people were being murdered a hundred miles from here, would we not run to help? Why do we stop this decision of the heart when the distance is three thousand miles instead of a hundred? (172)
Memory is a bit of light on a winter wall. (176)
False of heart, light of ear, bloody of hand. Is man no more than this? (207)I found The Disappeared to be compelling. I didn't want to put it down. It was beautiful. It was powerful. It was haunting. I thought the writing was incredible. It gets ugly in some places--because war, terror, death, and hate are ugly. The Disappeared is definitely a novel I'd recommend.
And at the moment I'm writing this review, this one is clearanced at Barnes & Noble.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews