"Return to Clay": English version of French colonial novel.

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"Return to Clay": English version of French colonial novel.

Post by CEOCambodiaNews » Wed Jul 06, 2016 1:49 pm

Going Native

by Michelle Vachon | July 2, 2016

The novel “Return to Clay” starts with a familiar scenario for couples moving to a faraway land.

Raymonde, a French woman whose husband, Claude, is being transferred to Cambodia has no intention of leaving their upper-class Paris neighborhood for an unknown land in which she has no interest.

Claude refuses to leave her behind, however, and Raymonde reluctantly agrees to follow, determined to find fault in everything and everyone in Phnom Penh. She drives away her Cambodian domestic staff with her constant criticism and creates a poisonous atmosphere at home that pulls the couple apart.

Raymonde constantly dreams of Paris. Claude falls in love with Cambodia.

When he takes a Cambodian mistress, Raymonde returns to France. This leaves Claude free to sever links with his Western friends and plunge into a Cambodian milieu about which he grasps little beyond his romantic imaginings.

Released in English for the first time last year, the novel by George Groslier—the Frenchman who established Cambodia’s National Museum—was first published in Paris in 1928.

The reactions of the two characters to a strange new land and culture are still being experienced by expatriates today, said Francois Dore, an expert on Indochina’s French-language literature who has a 12,000-book collection at his library-cum-bookstore, Librairie du Siam, in Bangkok.

“This is what makes this such a present-day novel,” he said. “There is the discovery of a country, the shock of a culture one does not grasp with its food, climate and a daily life in which everything conspires to take one aback.”

Expats in Cambodia have “two possible reactions,” Mr. Dore said: either a rejection and inability to grasp the new country, which leads to disappointing experiences, or amazement, enthusiasm and a readiness to embrace their surroundings.

“But then: Beware of the dangers that await the foolish one who goes too far in his naive admiration,” Mr. Dore said. “His downfall will be the more harsh when the ‘decivilized’ opens his eyes and is confronted with a reality devoid of any misleading exoticism.”

Whether today or a century ago, foreigners who leave behind their own roots to plunge into Cambodian society often have a rude awakening when they start comprehending the country’s unwritten codes and complex workings.

Mr. Groslier knows Cambodia “inside out,” Mr. Dore said. “It’s his country. But he also has before his eyes the daily sight of the small colonial community to which he belongs.”


Mr. Groslier, who also wrote non-fiction works on Cambodia, finished “Return to Clay” on June 13, 1928 — 88 years ago. His first novel “La Route du plus fort,” which was published in 1926, will be released for the first time in English later this year under the title “The Road of the Strong,” said DatASIA publisher Kent Davis.
Full article: https://www.cambodiadaily.com/news/going-native-114912/
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siliconlife
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Re: "Return to Clay": English version of French colonial novel.

Post by siliconlife » Wed Sep 07, 2016 5:07 pm

I read this book recently, and thought it was little more than an interesting look at a different Cambodian era. Translation was terrible, and so was narrative structure (that's my opinion of course). He may have known Cambodia inside out, and he is certainly not your typical colonialist, but I thought at root he could not hide his superiority complex. It's also highly sexualised and largely based around lust for village women and the supposed emancipation that can bring.
Last edited by siliconlife on Wed Sep 07, 2016 6:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "Return to Clay": English version of French colonial novel.

Post by Anchor Moy » Wed Sep 07, 2016 6:08 pm

Thanks for the book review Silicon. Maybe the book reveals more about the writer than the subject ? Do you know if it's on kindle ?
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Re: "Return to Clay": English version of French colonial novel.

Post by siliconlife » Wed Sep 07, 2016 6:24 pm

Anchor Moy wrote:Thanks for the book review Silicon. Maybe the book reveals more about the writer than the subject ? Do you know if it's on kindle ?
I don't believe it is on Kindle, no, I ordered a copy off Amazon. I might also add to that review that bigamy is a central theme, and by today's standards the main character might be considered a bit of a paedo. In the end it couldn't help but come off to me as a bit sleazy, despite him trying to "legitimately" romanticise it. It does give some minor insight into the colonial era though.
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