October 30, 2009

The Disappeared - Kim Echlin

I actually finished this book a week ago (and stayed up far too late one night in order to finish it), but I've had a bad cold this week and have been indulging in L.M. Montgomery re-reads. I'm feeling better now, so time to get back on track with the Giller shortlist.

I knew going into it that a book set in Cambodia in the second half of the 20th century entitled "The Disappeared" wouldn't have a happy ending, but I didn't anticipate just how beautifully it would be written. The book is short (only 228 pages), and there is not one word missing or one word too many. And some of the sentences were so beautifully constructed that I would stop in my tracks and contemplate just that sentence. A lot of the beauty comes from the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas - for example: "The waiters watched and pretended not to see," or "The strangeness of my love for you is that it has made me dead in life and you alive in death."

The plot is very simple - a young girl in Montreal falls in love with a Cambodian refugee in the 1970s. The refugee returns home to Cambodia as soon as the border opens; she follows him 10 years later; they are re-united; and then he disappears. Love found; love lost; love found again; love lost again.

I have never been to south-east Asia, but with the beauty of the writing, I felt as though I had been transported there. Some day I will go, and discover if this book was realistic in it's portrayal.

One quibble with the writing style (and not only in this book, but it seems to be the case in many that are written these days). What is wrong with quotation marks? A simple punctuation mark that indicates external speech. Yes, your writing may then appear to be edgy and modern when the quotation marks are omitted, but it also becomes somewhat ambiguous and hard to follow dialogue. Hopefully this is a trend that will pass, and in the future, scholars will read books and be able to date them to this era by the lack of quotations marks (or other punctuation). And yes, I may be the only one that this bothers - after all, I am the self-proclaimed Queen of the Semicolon, and a Royal Pain in the 'S.
(Stepping off my soapbox now.)

On an unrelated note, I have been dared by my cousin to read Twilight. I have so far managed to avoid the hype surrounding the books/films, partly because the mass-marketing of them doesn't appeal to me, and neither do vampires in general; however there is now a $25 bookstore gift card riding on it. If I like Twilight better than anything else on my TBR book, I will pay up, but if another book is better than Twilight, she will pay me. Twilight will have to be quite spectacular indeed to surpass The Disappeared. I've placed a copy on hold at the local library - stay tuned here for my progress in this challenge.

The Disappeared was read as part of The Canadian Book Challenge at The Book Mine Set.


Scrat said...

I would advise that you read Twilight and collect the 25$. I have read the entire series as my daughter is a vampire fanatic and I like to read most of the books she reads. While the books are far superior to the movies my daughter forced me to watch, they are pulp for teenage girls who are dying for love....Go for it -- and don't forget to collect the 25$ You will have earned it. ;)

Kate said...

My thoughts exactly! I will read a library copy of Twilight, and then use the $25 to buy something that I want to read.

Wanda said...

Won't convince me to read Twighlight, not even for 25$!

The Disappeared on the other hand, now that's a different story. Great review Kate, another for my tbr!

Kate said...

Thanks! It definitely was a beautiful book. And as far as Twilight goes, I will probably take it on a trip or something - probably good airplane reading. Though anything to do with horror or vampires etc doesn't appeal to me at all (though another friend assures me that the family are all "Vegetarian Vampires").