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The Embassy of Cambodia

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  3,410 ratings  ·  318 reviews
'The fact is, if we followed the history of every little country in the world - in its dramatic as well as its quiet times - we would have no space left in which to live our own lives or apply ourselves to our necessary tasks, never mind indulge in occasional pleasures, like swimming ... ' First published this Spring in the New Yorker, The Embassy of Cambodia is a rare and ...more
70 pages
Published February 11th 2013 by
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Joseph Delos It's a fictional writing and usually these have a surface story but a "bigger picture" theme such as the meanings of cruelty. Especially the recurring…moreIt's a fictional writing and usually these have a surface story but a "bigger picture" theme such as the meanings of cruelty. Especially the recurring "Pock, smash" has a deeper meaning. It's all up for analysis. (less)

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Jun 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Was it wrong to hope to be happy?


Whenever I get foul tempered about my work being overly demanding, a haranguing inner voice whispers 'check your privileges' into my ear, thinking of the incredible high level of protection and good working conditions I enjoy, and recalling my mother’s. Like so many daughters from the working class that couldn’t afford another choice, she was obliged at 14 to leave school and her family and go live with and work for a local doctor’s household as a servant, wo
May 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those that wish to see the world in many multifaceted ways
Recommended to Jaidee by: its Zadie for gawd's sake !!
Shelves: five-stars-books
5 "outstanding, poignant, chaotic yet ordered" stars !!!

2017 Honorable Mention with High Distinction Read

Fatou is from Africa. She understands little and experiences so much. She is at times violated and yet lives life fully, beautifully and at times full of mirth. She is ignorant and in her own ways is racist, sexist but wants to learn and understand. She really does not know how to love but she knows how to swim, watch badminton matches and wonder about Cambodians while not fully grasping he
May 08, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
The Embassy of Cambodia is a multi layered short story by Zadie Smith that originally appeared in the New Yorker in November 2013. Following the life of an Ivory Coast immigrant to London named Fatou, Smith details how race, gender, and ethnic group play a role in ones station in life. A mere 67 pages in book form, Smith's story gave insights into London's immigrant culture.

In search of a better life than the Ivory Coast had to offer, Fatou moves with her father to Libya then Italy and finally
Connie G
Fatou, an African immigrant in England, walks by the Cambodian embassy on her way to the swimming pool and notices there is a badminton game played there every week. Fatou thinks about the Cambodian Khmer Rouge whose motto, directed to the New People in their cities, was "To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss."

Fatou works for a Pakistani family for room and board. Her immigrant friend Andrew also works in a low level job, although he is well educated. They meet in a coffee shop,
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Too frequently my objection to short stories is that they leave you feeling there was so much more to say but it was cut short by the author in service of keeping the story "short". Well, Zadie Smith is not one of those authors. She tells this story of an African immigrant who regularly passes the Embassy of Cambodia as she steals a rare moment of personal time, without leaving a thing unsaid. The ending is superb.

Pock. Smash.
Nov 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
This excellent short story by Zadie Smith first appeared in the New Yorker in February 2013. It tells the story of a young woman, Fatou, who has fled the Ivory Coast to make a better life for herself in the west. She works as a maid for a wealthy Pakistani family, the Derawals, in Willesden, North West London – familiar Smith territory – near the Embassy of Cambodia. Every Monday, Fatou manages to slip out of the house for a few precious hours of freedom, when she uses the family’s guest passes ...more
Tristram Shandy
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
“She was cleaning toilets in a Catholic girls’ school. She did not know Jesus then, so it made no difference what kind of school it was – she knew only that she was cleaning toilets.”

Would cleaning toilets in a Catholic school with Jesus in your heart be a fundamentally different experience from cleaning toilets in the same place without corresponding religious convictions? Would it be less of a drudge, more of a mission? I naturally did not stop at that, musing on the degree of elation Catholic
Nov 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the consequences of the globalisation of labour markets has been an increasing number of the quasi-legal as service workers in the major cities of the world – people like Fatou, at the centre of this short story. She has been brought to London under dubious circumstances, kept in utter dependency by a wealthy Willesden family and, just like the Cambodian Embassy nearby, slightly out of place.

The best stories humanise major issues and can take us behind the generic to find the particular t
Jun 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the best short novel I've read this year. Fyi, reading short works is my new method for deciding whether I want to read more of . a particular author - very little investment of time required, and one gets a sense of the author. In the case of Zadie Smith, I will definitely be reading more of her work in the future. The Embassy of Cambodia is a simple story about a woman, Fatou, an immigrant from Ghana, who is working in virtual servitude for an Indian(?) couple who treat her as a non-en ...more
Brown Girl Reading
This is a short story that Zadie Smith wrote and had published in The New Yorker. This is the story more elaborated but it is being marketed as a small book. Actually it's a short story or novella. Nevertheless I enjoyed it and wished it was much longer. It is the story of Fatou a live-in maid and baby-sitter that is working for a wealthy Arab family living in Willesden a borough of Brent i North West London, which is a borough of Brent in North West London. They have taken her passport so she i ...more
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Embassy of Cambodia is a short story by British author, Zadie Smith. Fatou’s passage out of Ivory Coast, via Ghana and Libya, included a sojourn in Italy before she landed a job with the Derewals in NW London. While they withhold her passport and her wages, and she is certainly is not well treated, her not-quite-slavery does allow her a certain amount of freedom.

The Derewals live in Willesden, and her freedom includes being able to attend church with her friend Andrew Okonkwo on Sundays, an
Mar 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful short story by Zadie Smith, The Embassy of Cambodia was originally published in the New Yorker. In 69 short pages, this stout little book offers an insight on modern-day slave trade, and the ways in which systemic racism affects the safety, security, and prosperity of immigrants in the Western world. The book's namesake embassy plays the role of a reflecting pool; our heroine, Fatou, weighs the atrocities in Cambodia to the atrocities her own Ghanian (and African) ancestors faced. Wh ...more
Nov 19, 2013 rated it it was ok
If you're going to market what is essentially a 20 page short story (and if you removed the "chapter" breaks and printed this in a more standard format that is what it amounts to) as a hardback book for £7.99, it better be a fantastic story, worthy of Munro or Carver. And whilst I like Zadie Smith's writing (I've read and enjoyed all four of her novels) this is alas pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. As part of a collection I'd perhaps look on it more favourably, but in this format the reader is bein ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library, fiction
3.5 rounded down

My first Zadie Smith! This short story comes in at 60-something pages in book form, but I'm pretty sure you can still read it online as it was originally published in the New Yorker. We follow Ivorian domestic servant, Fatou, who works for a well-off family in Willesden, London. She often passes the Embassy of Cambodia on her way to the health centre of which the family are members, where she goes swimming using their guest pass (something the family are unaware of).

As other revi
Dec 17, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-books
Short story that can be completed in less than an hour. I enjoyed this and would rate it a 3.5/5 stars. This author's writing is great. Definitely will check out more of her work.

Fatou is a great character in this book and the whole slavery and self identity issues were great to read.
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Flawless. A wonderful gift to your head between longer books. Reminds me of The Ocean at the End of the Lane for the sheer economy of language and captivation of my attention
Sep 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
That was soooo good. Zadie Smith is an amazing writer; she has that balance between descriptive and bland writing. It was so easy to get attached this story, Fatou's story, and to her as a main character.
I enjoyed the diversity too, which wasn't the emphasis on this short story but obviously where the characters came from effected their positions (Fatou was really a refugee coming to work). When I first started the story I thought Fatou was a young, white male or something, and I was pleasantly
Zöe Yü
Jan 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: english
This book is way out of the range it should charge its readers, but I did like it. It is much better written than NW. The maid reminds me a lot of maids I met or saw in Hong Kong and Macau, either they are struggling with their lives, or they are enjoying their "meeting" in Victoria Park. How's their lives? Like a shuttlecock? I don't know. But Zadie's short story brought me to her imagination of a "one-day" life of this maid, maybe any maid. It's just, maybe, too simple their lives, but you are ...more
May 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-writers
Beginning and ending outside the Embassy of Cambodia, which happens to be located in Willesden, NW London, Zadie Smith's absorbing, moving and wryly observed story suggests how apparently small things in an ordinary life always raise larger, more extraordinary questions.
'Are we born to suffer? Sometimes I think we are born to suffer more than all the rest.'
The Embassy of Cambodia is my first exposure to Zadie Smith's writing. I don't know what it is about her, but her novels seem to be either hi
When is a book a novel and not an essay, novella or short story?
This is a short story packaged and sold as a stand-alone book. Nonetheless it packs a punch to remind those living privileged lives to show a bit of kindness to those less fortunate.
The story is of a young woman from Ivory Coast works for an unfriendly newby-rich family. She receives no pay, has little time off but considers herself lucky. Luck, security, safety are all relative issues explored simply but will great power.
Laura Frey (Reading in Bed)
Take half an hour and read this.
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Short, sweet, delightfully crafted and to the point.
I read Smith's Changing my Mind last year and really loved it, but this short story/novella (which was apparently first published in The New Yorker) was my first encounter with her fiction. It's so tightly contained, and yet it really gives you a sense of a whole wide world. The split narration structure—one close third narrator following the main character, Fatou, and one unnamed first person narrator standing in for 'us,' the people of the Willesden neighborhood where the story takes place—was ...more
Take note: this is not a new, full-length Zadie Smith novel, as I thought when I first saw it advertised, but a short story originally published in the New Yorker. It’s a slender but important tale about the fragility of sympathy: “Gratitude was just another kind of servitude. Better to make your own arrangements.” As usual with Smith, you get an interesting interplay of race and class among North London immigrants. I especially like her occasional use of the first-person plural perspective ...more
Annabel Clare
Dec 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Lovely, short book which makes you think. I want to read more Zadie Smith.
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick but poignant read (use 40 min or so of free time and just read it!). Zadie Smith remains one of my favorite authors of all time. Fatou, a domestic worker from the Ivory Coast, moved from Libya to Itally and finally to London by her father, in essentially the role of "slave," working for no wage, finds solstice in a small act of civil disobendience -- using the guest passes of her employer to swim at their health center. The book intricat ...more
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
a very interesting and layered story as told by an unknown narrator about an immigrant Ghanese woman who daily walks past the oddly situated Cambodian embassy (oddly as it is in deep English suburbia) where a discordant badminton game seems to be eternally playing. She does this on her way to use the pool at her employers (indentured enslavers) club for which she rescues forgotten guest passes.
Every detail is meaningful in regards to the separation of classes and the plight of the poor and non-
Saturday's Child
Short, sharp and sweet.
Nastya Nikitina
Jan 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this story. The whole thing seemed so simple and clear. No message was lost. It definitely was full of powerful messages without needing to create a plot that was radical in anyway.
Susan Abraham
Nov 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
The length didn't bother me, although I feel that The Embassy of Cambodia would work better as a longer short story.

This is the tale of Fatou, a foreign maid who works for the ungrateful and colourless Derawal family. It tells of her secret adventures with club poolside swims and misadventures as to what constitutes for a painful destiny..

Initially, I approached my new Zadie Smith with interest and an open mind.

I was startled when the first few pages brought on a yawn. The stifled badminton game
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Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW, and Swing Time, as well as two collections of essays, Changing My Mind and Feel Free. Zadie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, and was listed as one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Novelists in 2003 and again in 2013. White Teeth won multiple literary awards including the James Ta ...more

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39 likes · 14 comments
“The fact is if we followed the history of every little country in this world—in its dramatic as well as its quiet times—we would have no space left in which to live our own lives or to apply ourselves to our necessary tasks, never mind indulge in occasional pleasures, like swimming. Surely there is something to be said for drawing a circle around our attention and remaining within that circle. But how large should this circle be?” 7 likes
“A tap runs fast the first time you switch it on.” 0 likes
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