➺ [Reading] ➼ Holiday in Cambodia By Laura Jean McKay ➯ – Publitags.co

Beyond The Killing Fields And The Temples Of Angkor Is Cambodia A Country With A Genocidal Past And A Wide, Open Smile A Frontier Land Where Anything Is Possible At Least For The TouristsIn Holiday In Cambodia Laura Jean McKay Explores The Electric Zone Where Local And Foreign Lives MeetThree Backpackers Board A Train, Ignoring The Danger Signs And Find Themselves In The Hands Of The Khmer RougeElderly Sisters Are Visited By Their Vampire Niece From Australia And Set Out To Cure HerA Singer Creates A Sensation In Swinging , On The Eve Of An American Bombing CampaignThese Are Bold And Haunting Stories By A Remarkable New Talent Each Of These Stories Is Like Catching A Snippet Of A Conversation Or Looking Into A Lit Window In A Dark Night, And Loitering Longer Than You Should To Hear And See What Characters Inadvertently Reveal About Themselves Holiday In Cambodia Shows The Ugly Side Of Post Colonial Tourism, As Well As Moments Of Great Pathos And Dignity, In A Compelling And Empathetic Voice Alice Pung Polished, Hemingwayesque Snapshots, Vivid And Atmospheric Steven CarrollAbout The Author Laura Jean McKay Is The Author Of Holiday In Cambodia Shortlisted For The NSW Premier S Literary Award , The Queensland Literary Award And The Asher Award For Women Writing On An Anti War Theme Laura S Writing Has Been Published In The Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing And Meanjin And Is Forthcoming In The US In J Journal And The North American Review She Is A PhD Candidate At The University Of Melbourne And The Recipient Of A Martin Bequest Traveling ScholarshipHer Short Story Collection Holiday In Cambodia Is Out Now With Black Inc Go To Blackincbooks


10 thoughts on “Holiday in Cambodia

  1. says:

    Holiday in Cambodia was not what I expected Taking its title from a 1980 song by the Dead Kennedys, I assumed the collection would focus on the foreign tourist experience a kind of literary travelogue But while tourists do feature in a couple of stories, these are a long way from travelogue Route Four , in which three foolish backpackers take a train through Khmer Rouge held territory, can be read as a metaphor for the dangers of tourism for local people while Taxi is an ugly, if eerily intimate account of an Australian man s encounter with a Cambodian taxi girl , so called because they re for hire and you can ride them all night long , as one of the characters puts it.Of the remaining fifteen stories, seven are told from the point of view of Cambodians, eight from the perspective of expatriates Many of these stories are so intimate, at times it felt almost voyeuristic to read them But the combination of compelling characters and crisp prose proved irresistible.The stories take place in different historical periods In Breakfast , a worker in a Cambodian hotel gets her big break as a singer just as the 1969 American bombing campaign known as Operation Breakfast begins In Congratulations On Your Happy Day , the author manages to imagine the unimaginable in this story of forced marriages under the Khmer Rouge in the early 1970s Holiday, I Love You , told from the perspective of a garment factory worker, highlights without a trace of didacticism the dangers for unionists and labour organisers in present day Phnom Penh In Tell Me Where To Run , an impoverished young boy who sells books on the street is ineligible for subsidised education because of a focus that year on vulnerable orphan girls by the international development agency In A Thousand Cobs of Corn , a Cambodian mother whose first child is in ashes at the temple reflects on her job clearing landmines Massage 8000 acts as a counterpoint to Taxi , describing brothel life from the workers point of view as a young girl is sold off for the first time All were among the stories that left the strongest impression on me.Of the others, Coming Up spoke to my experience as an expatriate in Southeast Asia, where you try so hard to be respectful only to have family members and friends stumble in with all their cultural insensitivities and your local partners love them for it I didn t expect Holiday in Cambodia to blow my mind But it did.


  2. says:

    A collection of short stories thematically linked by their setting Cambodia The writing is incisive and precise, and some stories are hugely affecting the first in particular will stay with you It s strongest when dealing with the interaction between the West and Cambodia, but it s all very compelling.


  3. says:

    Laura Jean McKay is a fabulous young Australian author whose personality and experience spill from the pages of this short story collection I met Laura when she ran a Short Story Workshop at the Wheeler Center in Melbourne She is approachable and kind as a teacher, not to mention knowledgeable in her approach to creative writing.The stories in this book focus on Cambodia and it s goings on, whether it be in the lives of locals, tourists or those who find themselves in this complicated land for charity work commitments I would have given it five stars but I found that I didn t connect emotionally with many of the stories as some of the points being made seemed slightly weak and could have been further developed.Overall, a proud addition to Australian Short Story writing.


  4. says:

    I was so excited to read this book The title is taken from a Dead Kennedys song can t go wrong there And I travelled to Cambodia a few years back and really loved the country and the people Unfortunately, I found the book disappointing though I ve never been a huge fan of short stories It always feels like they re just about to start when they stop and this really lived up to that presumption Some of the stories were very short, some were very confusing and some just didn t make much sense at all Some, however were good and that is what made me read to the end So, okay, but not great.


  5. says:

    I first came across Laura Jean McKay s collection of short stories Holiday in Cambodia when I was researching new books set in the region, inspired by Walter Mason s Destination Cambodia After a brief trip there in 2005, it s a country I have remained fascinated with I wrote voraciously about it at the time must fossick for that notebook and remember, at the end of each day travelling, being exhilarated and exhausted by the conflicting imagery the gut wrenching violence of the Killing Fields tour the joy on the face of a girl as she gave me a tarantula to eat and the sudden awareness of the richness of my life, in all senses of the word see Laura s reflections on this later.So I was thrilled when Laura sent in her book to be featured in November s Friday Night Fictions club for debut authors Her collection is harrowing, gutsy and makes you squirm at times She takes on a variety of perspectives, all confidently characterised, including the dreams of local Cambodians a young prostitute a woman who works in a factory interspersed with the familiar terrain for Australians of the tourist abroad.The writing is straight, finely tuned and never sentimental And while I don t think shorts exist merely as a lead in to longer work see my recent review in The Australian of The Great Unknown and Sleepers Almanac , it s a sign for me of the writer s potential if I m left at the end of a short story desperate to know .When I interviewed Laura, I was particularly interested to hear that her dad was a writer as my father is too I ve often wondered whether people can have a writer gene , where they are born to write, as it often feels like this when I do it I still think it s pretty much all about hard work and resilience but, comparing my books with my dad s, there s a similar voice that emerges, a style that we seem to share I also love her comments about shyness and eccentricity as I ve unearthed ideas about this on the blog along the way.And I m very grateful that she chose to ignore those people who told her not to bother with a short story collection, because people won t read it We need of them published You can hear Laura reading one of her short stories The Expatriate if you fancy a taste.Do you remember the moment when you decided you wanted to be a writer I don t think there was a moment where I thought I will be a writer but there was definitely a point when I started writing My dad, who was a poet, died before I was born Mum and some of his friends published his poems in a book that was always around the house when I was little When I was 11 or 12 I found a suitcase of all his drafts those scraps of paper and notebooks that most writers have I think seeing that process, a whole suitcase filled with process, and knowing about the final product of the book had a big influence on me I started writing poetry using sort of the language he used So there was this kid poetry often written in texta with this adult man imagery It makes for pretty strange and interesting reading I guess poetry taught me how to look at the world and then I found prose.Your book is a collection of short stories set in Cambodia Did you set about from the start to publish a collection of short stories Or did you write one story at a time and start to see the connections I actually started off writing an historical novel about the 60s surf rock music scene that was rocking Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge I wrote about ten or twenty thousand words of it and realised I couldn t fit all I wanted into that structure I naturally default to writing short stories I think I always will and so as well as struggling through the novel I d been bashing out these stories about modern Cambodia After a while I realised that I was working on a collection and that this was the only structure that would allow me to say what I wanted to say The novel is in there though It s a story called Breakfast and I reckon I wrote a whole novella s worth to get to the final 5000 words I don t know why it was so hard maybe because it was carrying the weight of the novel or maybe because so much was lost when the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh in April 75 It s not a sad story but I found it incredibly hard to write because I was writing about a lost time, a time not without problems, but when Cambodia was independent and thriving.A lot of people told me not to write a short story collection, that it wouldn t be published and that people didn t read them I thought, Well, I can either write a novel that I know isn t going to be what I want it to be, or a short story collection that will My partner says I m dogged that way Why Cambodia Did it start off as a holiday I first went to Cambodia as a volunteer aid worker in 2007 Phnom Penh, and Cambodia, was really doing pretty well by then a lot of people had adjusted to independence from the UN and there were facilities in place, roads and mobile phone services, cafes etc Cambodian people were reviving traditions and doing incredible things with education I got a job working up in the remote north and expats told me stories about how all the aid workers used to meet every Friday night as a rule so that they would know everyone was still alive and not lost or shot somewhere out in the jungle Still, I was completely bowled over by the levels of poverty, the lack of infrastructure, the corruption and the violence I saw a man using his chin to cross a busy road in Phnom Penh because that was what he had left to use I knew that behind the polite and smiling exterior that most tourists experience on a holiday, the levels of domestic violence were and possibly still are astronomical The tourist expat scene of which I was a part, completely shocked me as well I was repulsed by the things I said and the assumptions I made and the way I acted My perception of what rich is completely changed as I realised that money in the bank was one thing, living in a country that will care for you if you re old, young, physically or mentally disabled, a single parent etc, is another I realised I was billionaire rich because I was from a location in the world and of a race and had a passport that meant I would probably be looked after This all makes for a lot to write about Why did you choose the Dead Kennedys song as your title other than that it s catchy The title for the book came very late in the piece, after I d completely rewritten the first draft and I was about to send it out to publishers I used to hang out in the 90s punk scene in Brisbane, where my contribution was having blue hair and attending a lot of gigs, and I remember hearing Holiday in Cambodia on a CD for the first time and thinking that the Dead Kennedys really knew about everything I think I was singing the song to myself in 2012 when I was taking a break from writing and realised that the lyrics of that song written in 1980 still applied, that I had experienced a version of what Jello Biafra was describing, and that Holiday in Cambodia was the title for my book If there is a central question to the collection, I guess it s how can you have a holiday in Cambodia It s like having a holiday in Rwanda, or Syria.Recently Jello Biafra s agent wrote asking for a few copies of the book What is it that you love most about writing Everything and nothing I love the first image that I see so clearly it s as though it has happened, and I know there might be a story there I love when I m writing absolute shit and it s impossible and it s only the fear and guilt that s driving me on fear that I won t finish it, guilt that I ve given up everything else to do it and the shitness builds and builds like a bubble and then pop I m through it I know what I m writing and that it will be okay I love that every time I write I have to solve a series of problems and if I do that I can handle most things I love getting something to the point where it s as good as I m physically and mentally and emotionally capable of producing and knowing that, with a good editor, I ll be able to take it even further I love being inside a story where I m not thinking about it but I m so in it that it takes up my everything, even when I m not working on it You know How did you go about getting the book published It wasn t as hard people said it would be but it wasn t as easy as some publishing tales I ve heard either I sent it to one publisher before it was ready and that was a mistake I imagined they would see what I envisioned for it and instead they, understandably, saw what I gave them I got some truly lovely feedback and only one shitty rejection Most people wanted to see my novel It didn t take too long before I had a great meeting with Black Inc who said they liked the work and wanted it I admired the hell out of their books already so it was exciting but also it felt just right.I wrote two novel manuscripts in my 20s so I knew how to write longer works but I didn t know how to take them to the next stage I thought the process was write the first draft, edit it to make the sentences nicer, proof read, send to your favourite publisher I didn t understand how the process of rewriting 50 per cent of the book until it s almost unrecognisable could bring it to a stage where a publisher could see it as a book Now I m writing a novel and I m working on getting the story out and the characters and voice right without being too particular, knowing that in the next draft I ll kick its arse.You set yourself the challenging goal of writing from many character perspectives, both Cambodian and traveller How did you research the Cambodian characters in particular And how did you check that the writing seemed true I didn t set out to write from a lot of different perspectives I think every short story or every piece of writing needs to be treated as unique, something with its own needs that might be vastly different from the previous story I wrote That s probably where the different perspectives come from Often I would write a story from one perspective and change it in the next draft With the story Like no one is watching , I originally wrote the whole thing from the perspective of a Cambodian woman It s about acid throwing in Cambodia, which used to happen quite a bit as a crime of passion Someone would get jealous about a real or perceived affair and would buy acid from the market for a few dollars and throw it on the face of their partner or the person they thought their partner was with Often it doesn t kill the person but maims them horribly it s incredibly painful and damaging I realised that I needed to tell it from a Western perspective because not only is it an awful situation but it s so culturally scary I wanted to juxtapose that with the culturally awful things that Westerners do.I did a Masters degree researching stories written about Cambodia by Cambodian and non Cambodian writers I also used my experiences, showed some stories to friends in Cambodia and generally sought advice I worked with a great writing group in Phnom Penh who were so encouraging and inspiring Although I don t speak Khmer I was really influenced by the stories that I was told or that were published in English both by contemporary and older Cambodian writers One of the stories I wrote was published in Nou Hach literary journal in Phnom Penh that felt really good.I had a book launch of Holiday in Cambodia in Phnom Penh and Chakriya Phou a writer whose work I love launched it Her take on the stories was so incredible I learnt things about Cambodia from her speech that I wouldn t have been able to access if we weren t in touch through writing Having said that, the stories are fiction They re not true I would be very surprised if some people didn t find them inaccurate and sometimes offensive I don t think you can escape that as a fiction writer, especially one writing about a different country and culture I guess that s another reason I called it Holiday in Cambodia, to make it clear that I am always a tourist in the places I write about.Do you have a writing community where you live Do you like the company of other writers when working on drafts, or are you someone who prefers to go it alone My partner, Tom Doig, is also a writer and last year we started our PhDs and moved to Portarlington, a bay side town on the Bellarine Peninsula We did that so we could write and to write we needed to be in a place where we knew no one I have actively resisted making friends here Before that we were living in a unit in Brunswick overlooking our concrete car space and we were pathologically social We had spaces in an awesome writers studio and met with friends every other day and there were festivals and parties and I said yes to everything Sometimes I think I was drawn to short stories because I could get one out in a couple of writing sessions and still go to the thing I had on that night But I also want to write novels and a quiet town with the bay out the window is the company I need at the moment.Now my writing community is formal I see people at writers festivals and meet up with a writing group every six weeks or so where we rip each other s stories to shreds and drink tea I miss my friends and family, though, and go into the city to hug them when I can.What is the most important thing you ve learned in the process of writing your first book, that you wish you knew at the beginning Because I d tested out a lot of my awful behaviour and mistakes on my first manuscripts, I felt that the creation of this one went pretty well, in that I had some terrific readers to go through the first draft and tell me all the things that needed to be done I knew how much work I d need to do to make it publishable I wasn t under any illusions about some magical muse who would take me away or that I would be discovered In retrospect, with the first manuscripts, I had some incredible opportunities presented to me that I either didn t recognise or was too shy to take up I was so shy People don t think so because I like performing and being on stage I ve learnt that eccentricity is productive than shyness so have settled for that.Which authors have been instrumental to your own reading and writing I don t love all of one author s work and I think that s a good thing It shows that they ve changed and developed and challenged themselves, trying new things that appeal to different readers I adore almost every Janet Frame short story I ve read, for example, but can t read her novels Same with Lorrie Moore Gritty realist literary fiction with a dystopian edge is probably the book shelf I would gravitate towards in the ultimate bookshop When I was younger, poets like William Blake, Sylvia Plath and Leonard Cohen I didn t know that Cohen was a singer for a very long time influenced me I read Arundhati Roy s The God of Small Things when I was 20 and it changed my idea of how a novel could be Janet Frame s The Lagoon and Other Stories and JD Salinger s To Esme with Love and Squalor are short story collections that I have read over and over again they are so perfect and flawed the best combination I really love Raymond Carver s work I resist reading novels by Russian writers translated because I love them too much and I can t do anything else while I m reading them Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Cancer Ward and Leo Tolstoy s Anna Karenina are my favourites Knowing writers like Romy Ash and Anna Krien and seeing their work develop and their books come out has been amazing I saw how hard they worked and how great that work was and thought, shit, I d better work about three times harder than I do now Living out in the country means time to read and in the last year I have read such brilliant books by Australian authors Eva Hornung s Dog Boy, Jessie Cole s Darkness on the Edge of Town and Peter Goldsworthy s Wish are three that have recently blown my mind I m just starting Charlotte Wood s Animal People and Alexis Wright s The Swan Book This list could change completely tomorrow This is what has influenced me today.This review and interview kindly brought to you by Wild Colonial Girl blog


  6. says:

    McKay writes with a great economy and precision, and clearly has a special empathy for Cambodia Most of the 17 stories of Holiday title from the 1980 Dead Kennedys song are set in the modern day, with a few between 1951 and 1994 Individual stories are linked by than just the Cambodian setting the 1951 vampire Lolita of The Deep Ambition of Rossi, scheming her way into Prince Sihanouk s bed, blood dribbling down her chin, reappears as the modern day Susan from Australia, syringe in her pouch, in Vampires from Cambodia Le Cercle Sportif, the chic colonial in place of Rossi, crops up again, shabby and down on its luck, as the neighbour of a modern day massage parlour cum brothel in Massage 8000 clueless characters from the appallingly but appropriately named NGO, Suffer the Children, crop up across a number of stories The links form an ironic supra narrative, so that a story about the murder of a union representative trying to get better conditions for workers in a T shirt factory Holiday I Love You casts a shadow over another in which a tourist observes that bar work must be better than a T shirt factory Taxi Each story stands alone, but a slow reading will bring out this extra layer of texture.The themes of Holiday are sex and death Three backpackers and an urchin in Route Four are bound for execution on the train to Kampot the unnamed expat girl in The Expatriate yet another employee of the ubiquitous Suffer the Children comes face to face with meaningless death in Coming Up we wait for a body to surface from the bottom of a lake, while yet another of the ladies from Suffer the Children reveals her inability to understand or communicate with the Cambodians though her mother s doing just fine Alongside this is the search for the real Cambodia, sometimes bizarrely funny A Pocket Guide To Phnom Penh , sometimes just bizarre The Real Cambodia, which introduces the image of the apsara Real Cambodia as destroying vampire.Cambodia occupies a special place in the collective Western imagination, one defined by drugs, easy sex, and senseless violence See Cambodia and Die is a slogan I d advise the local tourist authorities not to consider It has become the emblematic other , the place where the rules end and chaos begins Holiday has been praised for its Hemingwayesque snapshots, but what while that s true in its way it fails to capture the spiritual essence of the book what springs to my mind Paul Bowles, the nothingness that lies behind the sheltering sky.


  7. says:

    Holiday in Cambodia is a collection of short stories, all set in Cambodia, and all giving different insights into the place that it is It is described by the publisher as explor ing the electric zone where local and foreign lives meet, and that is exactly how I felt when reading it There are brief intersections between characters from different stories, but for the most part, each one stands alone as a fully realised piece McKay s ability to shift voice to create distinct stories is magic I often struggle with short story collections because, after six or seven stories, they can begin to blend into one jumbled narrative Holiday in Cambodia is not like that at all it varies from clear, factual narrative to magic realism to satire.The rest of this review can be found at


  8. says:

    Well, actually I ve only read two of the stories because a hem I m one of those readers who prefers the longer form of a novel See the review by Kirsten Krauth below But because I ve visited Cambodia, I was attracted by the title, and brought it home from the library not realising it was a collection of short stories.So I m just here to say that the first two stories were interesting to read and the writing was very good indeed, and so if you like short stories, you ll probably enjoy this collection


  9. says:

    Conversations tinged with memories of Cambodia s catastrophic past See at


  10. says:

    God, I love this book I m not big on short stories but they were so purposeful as snapshots of cultures and lives The pieces were emotionally heavy and there was so much poetry in the prose So good