"The Disappeared" is a love story filled with yearning and sadness. It is a beautifully written book, and Echlin writes with a unique and individual style and an economy of words. Her sentences are brief yet filled with description and mood, very much like poetry. This novel was a best seller in Canada.
Anne Greves, a young Canadian girl loves with an obsessiveness that is reminiscent of the narrator in Pamuk's book, "The Museum of Innocence." She meets a Cambodian young man named Serey who has been sent to Canada to further his education in Montreal. Serey is an accomplished jazz musician who pours his longing for his country and family into his music. Anne herself lost her mother when she was a baby, and her father while kind is distant and wrapped up in his work; so there is a hole in both their lives that needs filling which speeds the comfort they find in each other.
The novel is set in the mid 1970s, and as the situation in Cambodia worsens, Serey feels the need to return to his home country to search for his parents who were most likely victims of the Cambodian genocide. Between the years of 1975 and 79, 1.7 million lives were lost in the killing frenzy of Pol Pot. Serey leaves Anne behind and becomes one of the disappeared.
Eleven years go by, Anne goes to University, enters into other relationships and tries unsuccessfully to forget Serey. One day watching a news story about Cambodia, she is convinced she spots him in a crowd. Impulsively, she leaves behind her life in Montreal, flies to Phnom Penh, and makes it her mission to find Serey.
Echlin writes of Cambodia so realistically and sensually that the reader feels she/he has entered another world, a beautiful and exotic one that is filled with the suffering and depravity fashioned by the Khmer Rouge. It is country trying to regain meaning and its footing in the world.
Anne finds and loses Serey three times, refusing to give up the life they have fashioned for themselves. She is helped by some lovely gentle Cambodians and an ex-pat Canadian doing charity work among the wounded. Anne writes this story as a memorial to Serey, just as Echlin has dedicated the book to Vann Nath who entreats her to "Tell Others."
I highly recommend this book for its superior writing, though the story is a painful one of a young woman's determination to find the man she loves and a story which depicts the cruelty and madness of the killing fields.