The DisappearedAuthor: Kim Eschlin
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
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Reading Notes1. A poet once told Kim Echlin, ‘There really are only people and places’, and she has studied myths from around the world. In The Disappearedin what way does she explore how story-telling transcends language and culture to allow us to connect with one another?
2. One of the themes of the novel is remembering and memory, about which Kim Echlin has said, ‘Memory recre- ates history, organizes and recreates what time is always destroying. I wanted the language of this story to re?ect the multiple understandings we have at every moment. And so, when Anne loses her mother at the age of two, Anne later sees this both as loss but also as a source of her freedom. Similarly, the joy she experiences when she is pregnant, co- exists with her knowledge that their child will inherit his father’s and her dark losses. Then, when the focus is pulled back from the story of two lovers to the more global perspective, the darkness of outer historical events is woven through the lightness of two people struggling to love each other.’ Discuss the ways the author plays out this intention within the fabric of the novel. And what other themes are there?
3. Would you say Kim Echlin believes that history shapes us, or thatwe shape history?How does this showinThe Disappeared?
4. Would you say that, generally speaking, there is a recognised genre of literature of testimony? What examples from other writers could you give? Kim Echlin has said that after she returned from a visit to Cambodia she began to read widely a range of testimonies, sourced from various truth commissions, South Africa’s ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ report, Argentina’s ‘Nunca Mas’, as well as the literature and testimony that has come out of World War II, and others. She elaborates: ‘When I re-read the testimony of those who have suffered war or genocide, I noticed that the style of telling is very pared down. People say, “I was tortured”, “I was raped”, “I was thrown in a mass grave and managed to get out”. There is little embellishment, no metaphor, little description beyond the plain recounting of the event. I wanted my style to reflect this kind of language: spare, essential.’ Would you say that she has been successful in this endeavour? And would you agree that some of the greatest love poetry written has a similar, spare essen- tial quality? And in what other artistic mediums might this quality be evident?
5. Eventually Anne is the sole person in the world who knows Serey’s story. Why does she decide to tell it? Does she find comfort for herself through doing so? And what is likely to happen to Anne now that she has given us her testimony?
6. Serey joins an opposition movement, his brother Sokha rejoins the army, and Anne searches for the truths inherent in her particular situation. Discuss how these individuals try to balance the conflicting, and often irreconcilable, interests of the state and the individual?
7. Would you say that music is important in this novel? Do you ?nd a lyricism and a rhythm in Kim Echlin’s prose that remind you of music, songs and poetry? What else would you say about the narrative style of The Disappeared?
8. Are there echoes of other writers that the author is consciously referencing? Who might they be?
9. Does Serey challenge the reader’s notions of good and evil?
10. How is parenthood characterised in this story?