Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Today I read The Clay Marble by Minfong Ho (my looming interlibrary loan due date spurred me on).

The book is told from Dara’s perspective. She is a twelve-year-old Cambodian girl and often sounds far older than her age. At times her voice sounds unauthentic. However, because I am trying to become less critical, I will acknowledge that a child who has experienced death and war could reasonably sound like an adult.

In fact, I remember hearing a group of girls in one of my undergrad English classes complain about Jane Eyre as a child. They insisted she sounded too old and unrealistic. I was obsessed with the Brontës. I had read all of their books, multiple biographies, and—most importantly—their juvenilia. I was convinced that a young Charlotte Brontë would, indeed, have sounded exactly like the young Jane Eyre. I knew if asked how she could avoid going to hell, young Charlotte would have answered, “I must keep in good health, and not die” (43).

But I digress.

The Clay Marble is the second young adult book I’ve read about the conflict in Cambodia—the other was Little Brother by Allan Baillie. Baillie is a Scottish-Australian who worked as a reporter in Cambodia. Ho is a Cornell-educated Thai woman who worked as a relief worker on the Thailand-Cambodia border in the 1980s. I mention this biographical data because despite their differing backgrounds, both authors wrote very similar books.

Dara’s story starts as she flees with her family to the refugee camps on the Cambodia-Thailand border. Before The Clay Marble begins, Dara and her family have suffered through years of famine and war; she has lost her father and grandmother.

Vithy’s story starts as he and his older brother, Mang, try to reach the security of the border. Before Little Brother begins, Vithy and his family have suffered through years of famine and war; he has lost his parents and sister.

Although both Dara and Vithy suffer throughout the books—they must avoid soldiers and shelling, they often go without food, and they experience death—their stories start too late. It was like reading the last chapter of a book, and I longed for the full picture. What were their lives like at home before they became refugees? How did these children process conflict and famine?

I wanted more—I wished for some of the honesty and grit of Deogratias—but ultimately, these books were written for older children and young adults (and not for me). Dara and Vithy flee to the refugee camps because they are survivors. Each book, then, has a sense of hope—and that is the message these authors want to leave their young readers.


Wanna-Be Lit said...

Once you're done with your reseatch, you'll have to post your bibliography.

Blogger said...

I will definitely post a bibiography. By the way, did you go to Cambodia on your Asia trip?

Wanna-Be Lit said...

Nope. Vietnam and Thailand were as close as we got.