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With equal loathing for CIA manipulations on the one hand and Khmer Rouge atrocities on the other, Durand dramatizes the disintegration of Cambodia, 1969-75--in a rich, uneven fact/fiction blend that sometimes recalls the post-colonial irony/pathos of J. G. Farrell and Paul Scott. The rather blurry central figure: 38-year-old widower Lara (no first name), a rubber-plantation owner who--as an eighth-generation colonial--considers himself Cambodian, not French; and though his family was butchered by Communist guerrillas in 1948 (Lara himself still has gruesome scars from the attack), Lara is now giving secret support to old friend Ieng Samboth, a leftwing dissident/fugitive/guerrilla (but a moderate compared to his bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge comrades). Meanwhile, the masterful, fearless Lara also aids some distant American relatives: young Jon Kinkaird has deserted from the Vietnam army, his older sister Lisa has flown to Saigon to find him, Lara manages to locate Jon in an opium-den and sneak him to Phnom Penh . . . and passionate soulmates Lara and Lisa (a widow) are soon married. But the marriage will be steadily eroded by Lara's obsession with staying in Cambodia no-matter-what. Events, both historical and personal, make Lara's self-image as a white Cambodian increasingly illusory: the military, CIA-aided plots against Sihanouk, involving anti Vietnamese race riots; the murder of Lara's architect/photographer friend Roger by the increasingly powerful and barbaric Khmer Rouge; the wounding of Lisa by sadistic rightwing Colonel Kao; the suicidal refusal of an elderly French couple (not unlike the one in Scott's Staying On) to leave their Phnom Penh home and its Oriental art-treasures. And finally, after the massacre/fall of Phnom Penh, Lara will indeed be the ""last white man"" in Cambodia, in a death-duel against extremists of both sides--along with his Cambodian blood-brother Kutchai and the beleaguered, moderate Ieng. Durand, a French political journalist, sometimes allows his sturdy, stately narrative to lapse into mere reportage; his principal theme--the ineradicable taint of colonialism--is often spelled out heavyhandedly. And the Laras are, unfortunately, the least vivid or convincing characters here. But the political history is strong, the cast is a nuanced, cross-cultural gallery--and admirers of serious historical fiction will find this (in Lane's fine translation) intense, literate, and frequently powerful.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1983
Publisher: Morrow