I loved this novel.
In this novel, Geoff Ryman moves between the 12th century life and times of Cambodia’s King Jayavarman VII (c 1120 – c1215) and the 20th century lives of Luc, Map and William.
When archaeologists discover an ancient book written on gold leaves at Angkor Wat, everyone wants to be involved.
‘The gold leaves have slept for a thousand years.’
The precious artefact is stolen and its guardian, Professor Luc Andrade is kidnapped with it. The search for Luc and the precious book brings together a number of people, including the young motoboy William, and the ex-Khmer Rouge cadre Map both of whom are also victims of Cambodia’s recent history. The book itself contains the wisdom of King Jayavarman VII, the Buddhist ruler who, through uniting a war-torn Cambodia in the 12th century, was able to create a kingdom that was a relative haven of prosperity and learning.
This is one of the best novels I have read this year. The mystery surrounding the book, the contrasts and similarities of Cambodia across the centuries and the urgency of the mission to find Luc are brought together very well. The sense of history, the desolation of war and the dislocation of lives is also handled well, and many of the characters are finely drawn.
For me, the love and respect of Professor Luc Andrade and King Jayavarman VII for Cambodia is the central theme that unites the two major threads of the novel. Each of them, by looking to a brighter future, can see a hope for Cambodia that cannot have been apparent to most living through the turmoil in either century. This novel will stay with me a long time, and has awakened a desire to learn more about Cambodia both past and present.
‘They walked into night and a different history.’