The Disappeared by Kim Echlin
The Disappeared by Kim Echlin (2009) is, by far, my favorite book I've read in the first three months of 2010.
Sixteen-year-old Anne Greves, raised by her distant, widowed father, meets twenty-one-year-old Cambodian college student Serey in a Montreal blues club, and the attraction is immediate and mutual. She loves Serey in the obsessive way only a teenager can, leaving her devastated when the borders to Cambodia reopen after the fall of Pol Pot, allowing Serey to return home to search for his family.
Flash-forward eleven years. Anne's life still revolves around her memories of her time with Serey. [Yes, I'm thinking "what a waste, what a waste."] A chance glimpse of someone who may be Serey on television has her leaving Canada and heading to Cambodia with the mere hope of finding him again.
The relationship between Anne and Serey is extremely different in Cambodia than during their time together in Montreal. Not only are they older and different, but their relationship seems almost to mirror the way Anne imagines her parents' relationship. Only two when her mother died, Anne sees the woman holding her as a baby in a photo as being trapped, living with a man who spends his time with his work, his books--not really with his wife. And that's what happens to Anne in Cambodia; Serey devotes his time to his mysterious translating work.
I wonder how much time might have passed before Anne realized the similarity. And what might have happened in their relationship next.
Instead, history and the nightmare of Cambodia at the time intervene. Anne's eventually forcibly returned to Montreal. Thirty years later, living a shadow life and leaving me wondering who she might have been if she hadn't devoted herself to a ghost love, I have to say that this story seems to point in the opposite direction of "better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all." I can't help thinking that Anne's father had a point about her relationship with Serey ruining her life, especially when she's unable to leave the past in the past, appreciated/remembered fondly/not central to the present and future, and move on with her own life.
Echlin does especially well in capturing the young Anne's feelings and need for love, any love. Although I can't understand the later Anne as well, I ache for her and who she could have been.
My overall personal rating of The Disappeared is an A.