Winner – August Derleth Nonfiction Book Award
Editor’s Pick – Foreign Policy Association
Cambodia has never recovered from its Khmer Rouge past. The genocidal regime of 1975–1979 and the following two decades of civil war ripped the country apart. This work documents Cambodia in the aftermath, focusing on Khmer people of all walks of life. Through their eyes, the book examines key facets of Cambodian society: development, health, psychology, women and children, violence, poverty, environment and conservation, the ancient Angkor legacy, relations with neighboring countries, Cambodian culture at a crossroads, and prospects for the country’s future. Along with print sources, research is drawn from seven years of interviews with hundreds of Cambodians. The book includes dozens of exquisite pictures taken by photojournalist Jerry Redfern.
“A searing work of journalism framed as travel memoir, Wisconsin-based writer Karen J. Coates’ Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War is a difficult book in the best sense of the word. In taut, elegant prose, Coates challenges the reader to look closely at lives that he or she might prefer to glance over lightly as a tourist or ignore altogether as a Westerner, privileged to live without the threat of unexploded mines and poverty so grinding that the urgency of having rice to eat trumps all questions of politics. Reminiscent of the work of Ryszard Kapuscinski, Coates’ has produced an often painful, deeply unsettling and simultaneously beautiful book that examines the ongoing impact of the decades-long Cambodian civil war on the lives of contemporary Cambodians, a conflict that developed as a consequence of the Vietnam War. Never forgetting her position as an outsider, but determined to name and particularize the ordinary people she and her photographer husband encounter on their frequent visits, Coates uses her immense skill as a writer to shine light on the suffering and struggles of a country with which the West has meddled to devastating effect and now would just as soon forget.” —Judge’s comments by Anna Cypra Oliver for the August Derleth Nonfiction Book Award
“I loved the book, I could hardly put it down….This book is a must read for anyone looking to delve below the flimsy film of idyllic Cambodian life that most of the tourist hordes see and believe is the real Cambodia.” — Andy Brouwer, host of one of the most popular information and travel websites dedicated to Cambodia.
“In this moving book, illustrated with Redfern’s photos, Coates depicts the spunk, the verve, and the color of a resilient and optimistic people.” — Wildlife Conservation Magazine.
“Coates…aims to provide a portrait of the country that shows ‘the ravines of life between Cambodia’s bursts of news’ through the stories of individuals. With an informal tone, she uses these stories to shed light on the experiences and impact of the Khmer Rouge genocide, the historical legacy of Angkor Wat, relations with neighboring countries, the psychological effects of war, current politics, internally displaced peoples, the status of women and children, health and ecology, and future prospects.” — Book News.
“Relentlessly compelling essays…haunting photos…. Coates…combines human stories and journalistic thoroughness as she examines Cambodia through a variety of prisms…” —The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.)
“Coates and Redfern found a country that had been torn apart by war and remained violent. Through the people they met along the way, and in some cases, helped toward a more rewarding life, they paint a picture of Cambodia that isn’t being told anywhere else. Most news agencies have all but forgotten the country…. Anyone with even a mild interest in Southeast Asia won’t be disappointed. This book is for anyone who wants to read of a culture and a history so foreign to our own. It’s also a book for anyone who likes to read about fascinating stories of challenge, and the strength of the human spirit.” — The News-Review (Roseburg, Ore.)
“An impressive book…one of a few publications to focus on life in Cambodia today.” — The Montanan