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Kampu-Mera Editions reissuing Khay stories

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A short story titled Widow of Five Husbands was written by Chuth Khay, a teacher and a writer for the Nokor Thom newspaper who was also a civil servant from 1966 to 1980. SUPPLIED

Kampu-Mera Editions reissuing Khay stories

A short story titled Widow of Five Husbands – which was written in 1973 by a talented author of Khmer literature who enjoyed some fame in the 1970’s and 1980’s – was recently reprinted by Kampu-Mera Editions, a publisher whose one of its missions is to preserve the works of Cambodian writers from past eras.

The story was written by Chuth Khay, a teacher and a writer for the 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 Advanced 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 professor, he continued his studies at the Faculty of Law until graduating in 1968. In the same year, he moved to Santepheap High School in Kampong Speu province.

After the coup d’etat of General Lon Nol on March 18, 1970, Khay enlisted in the army with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Later, in 1971, he moved on to work as the Chief of Administration in the Military Court.

Khay was appointed Acting Dean of the Faculty of Law and Economics for the 1973-1974 academic year and he lived in misery and hardship but escaped execution by hiding his identity during the Khmer Rouge regime of 1975-1979, and fortunately he survived their massacres.

He fled with his family to the Khao I Dang refugee camp in Thailand in 1979 and he was granted political asylum in France in 1980. Eventually he acquired French citizenship and changed his name to Khay Chance and he is now 81 years old, living near Paris.

Khay wrote many short stories, some of which became 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 cultural customs and influences and his short story Widow of Five Husbands displays some of those western ideas, with a title that has a secretive or mysterious quality to it, as he wrote in 1973.

In the June, the Widow of Five Husbands was selected by Kampu-Mera Editions to be republished as it stood out as one of the best of Khay’s many short stories, which also includes well-known works such as Pagoda Kid in the Time of the French, Sentimental Baby Buffalo, Young Boy at French School and Ghouls, Ghosts, and other Infernal Creatures.

Khay once wrote that people – whether Cham, Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer, Laotian or French – who have free time to spend together, whether men or women, will always get around to 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 disgraceful and agreed with the decision to ban it 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 difficult to find so the price was four or five times higher than a typical book, which indicated that Cambodians curiosity about sexual matters was no different than in any other country whether they always expressed it or not.

So Phina, co-founder and manager of Kampu-Mera Editions – which was established in 2015 – said their publishing house publishes works in the form of novels, both 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 a lot of short stories, including ones recently written by him which are in-line with the goals of Kampu-Mera Editions, we decided to reissue his short story Widow of Five Husbands for the first time. The story was originally published by Nokor Thom Publishing House in 1973,” she said.

Describing the context in which the story was written, she explains that it was the early 1970s and Cambodia was plagued by civil war and was suffering from the US bombing campaign and then the start of the Khmer Rouge-era.

“Most Cambodians lived in a stressful situation, having been evacuated from their hometowns to rural areas, they were gathered to live together on communal farms,” she said. “Khay wrote this short story which has a lot of humour mixed with other social realities related to lifestyle, deception, fraud, studying, working, choosing a partner or preparing one’s children for marriage in order for the reader to have some relief from stress, because it was a time of great social unrest in Cambodia.”

Khay’s choice of words reflects the language of the era and So Phina suggests that readers consider the whole story and the context it was written in instead of focusing on being critical of the language used.

“However, this story reflects the reality of the past and has a historical value for modern readers. After reading the story, the readers can make comparisons according to the fundamental theories of literature in the past and the 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 the Khmer cultural heritage.

Without some effort at preserving them, these works could be lost as some were in old books with no original editions left – only photocopies of photocopies remain, and they will eventually lose definition on the page and become unreadable, she explains.

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 whom 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 has 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 many short stories, some of which were published as recently as 2018.

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