Alice Dumas Kol confronts her Cambodian family’s past in “Bitter Chance” – rts.ch
In her first novel, Une chance amere, French-Cambodian author Alice Dumas Kol confronts her family’s demons, fleeing the violence of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, while uncovering a past her mother and grandmother rarely mention.
In his studio in Créteil, a suburb of Paris, on the 7th floor of a dilapidated building, Lok Yé is watching a tape of a Khmer musical comedy. His granddaughter Alice visits him after school. He settles down on a plastic table with a piece of pandan cake and observes this silent grandmother. The old woman’s shoulders are slumped, and her body is wrinkled. Little by little, Alice will uncover the memories and violence that haunt her grandmother’s mind.
Published on January 6, 2023, Alice Dumas’ first novel Kol actually hides an investigation into the family’s – and woman’s – pastCover of Alice Dumas Kol’s book “Bitter Opportunity”. [éditions Anne Carrière]Author. Arriving in France in 1975, her grandmother and mother fled Cambodia and the violence of the Khmer Rouge. If they keep quiet about that traumatic past in front of the young girl, the spirits hold them captive.
A silent legacy
“It was complicated for me to know where I wanted to place this story. First I talked about autofiction, then I wanted to affirm the romantic side, explains Alice Dumas Kol on RTS. I had a lot of difficulty in authorizing myself to write the story that my mother lived, my grandmother, my uncles and my aunts. Because in the end I didn’t live it, but somehow I got it as an inheritance.”
If they don’t talk openly about their trauma, grandmother and mother Alice Dumas Kol conveys it to her daughter in another way. “That legacy is expressed through the body, frustrations and anger. I just wanted to create history in relation to these unspoken things. Therefore, it is important to register it as a novel, to give myself a place in the story,” says the Author.
Alice Dumas Kol decided to start writing her book after the death of her mother. “I was thinking about what I would like her to convey to me. She also wrote from her side, but they were historical texts about Cambodia in which she revealed herself a little as a woman. but I would like to read this.”
There is almost nothing left of life in Cambodia. Several photos, jewelry, statuettes whose ownership is disputed today. Everything that can fit in a suitcase. The rest was swallowed up by the red tide.
An investigation from memory
The author begins her research with fragments of her mother’s stories. Coming from a bourgeois family, the latter was among the targets of the Khmer Rouge. The same for intellectuals and artists: the uncle disappears because he “wears glasses”. She also interviews aunts and uncles.
“I also worked a lot on images that accompanied me during my childhood, perhaps imaginary images of what happened there,” adds Alice Dumas Kol. My mother told me a lot about her life as a girl, in a very romantic way. Nevertheless, she lived through the civil war, which preceded the rise of the Khmer Rouge to power. She told me, laughing, ‘I’ve seen severed heads hanging on pikes going to school.’ Still, for her, life in Cambodia was like paradise lost.”
The interview was conducted by Anne Laura Gannac
Adaptation Network: Myriam Semaani
Alice Dumas Kol, “Bitter Chance”, published by Anne Carrière