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On the Romantic Road Again in French Colonial Cambodia

November 9, 2017 Destination ASEAN No Comments Email Email

A chance encounter on a French country road in 1922 irrevocably intertwines the fate of Pierre Ternier—a colonial administrator visiting from Cambodia—with successful car manufacturer Roland Gassin and his attractive wife Hélène. The story then moves to the rural Cambodian province of Battambang, where Ternier’s primary duties are constructing and repairing the French Protectorate’s rapidly expanding road network. Through Ternier’s warm hospitality, Hélène is captivated by the rural Khmer lifestyle and the charming villagers. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that Hélène is a woman with a secret. And this secret would soon change their lives forever.

Born in Cambodia in 1887, author George Groslier developed a profound attachment for the country and spent his life protecting and developing its ancient art-forms, having crisscrossed the country and walked deep into the jungle to document its millennium-old monuments. In addition to establishing and running the country’s National Museum and setting up the School of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, the country’s capital, Groslier had written seven non-fiction books and dozens of academic publications by the time his first novel “La Route du plus fort” (“The Road of the Strong”) was published in 1925.

Nearly forty years old at the time, Groslier was in a perfect position to create compelling fiction that reflected reality and accurately portrayed both the French and Cambodians of that era. As Professor Henri Copin—a specialist of French colonial literature with an international reputation—explains “Groslier glorifies the colonizing power of France, while celebrating a Khmer art of living. His protagonist lives his life in devotion to his mission: to the roads that link beings, bring villages into the world, open up economies, and guarantee security and peace.”

Groslier would die weeks before the end of World War II in 1945, while being interrogated by the Japanese during their occupation of Cambodia. During the war, France’s Vichy regime collaborated with Nazi Germany to let its Japanese ally operate in Indochina—France’s territories in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Since the French preferred to downplay events of that era in Southeast Asia, Groslier’s death was kept quiet and his publications fell into obscurity.

In 2008, Kent Davis, an independent researcher and DatAsia Press editor, started working with Groslier’s daughter, Nicole Groslier Rea, not only to reprint Groslier’s works in French, but also to publish them in English for the first time.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded a grant to literary translator Pedro Rodríguez to create the first English version of “The Road of the Strong.” This 396-page special edition includes a foreword by Copin, maps, 100 illustrations, supplemental materials, publisher’s notes, the complete original 1925 French text, and a 75-page feature article on “Colonial Battambang Today” by Tom Kramer—Battambang City in the province by the same name is in the process of seeking UNESCO World Heritage status for its French colonial heritage.

The Road of the Strong” by George Groslier. First Edition. Florida, USA: DatAsia Press, 2017. Published simultaneously in the UK and USA. ISBN 978-1-934431-16-0. US$24.95.

Four other works by George Groslier are available in English from DatAsia Press: “Cambodian Dancers–Ancient and Modern” (2011); “In the Shadow of Angkor–Unknown Temples of Ancient Cambodia” (2014); “Return to Clay–A Romance of Colonial Cambodia” (2014); and “Water and Light–A Travel Journal of the Cambodian Mekong” (2016).

DatAsia Press specializes in fiction and non-fiction books about Southeast Asia—Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam—from ancient times to the 20th century. DatAsia publications include important academic analysis, expanded restorations of rare, obscure and out-of-print works, and other works of colonial and Belle Époque literature in French and in English translation

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