Read: The Embassy of Cambodia

Mention of the word “embassy” triggers some childhood memories in me. Memories of my late mother. She was an Indonesian of Chinese ethnicity, and she married my father who is a Malaysian of Chinese ethnicity. Before she received her permanent resident status, she had to settle some of the matters related to immigration at the Embassy of Indonesia, perhaps once in a year or so. I couldn’t remember nor understand the details very clearly because I was still very young, but I remember tagging along on those trips. I find embassies “special”, for lack of a better word – places which represent another country here in our land.

After reading Zadie Smith’s The Embassy of Cambodia, I still couldn’t quite figure out the significance of the title in relation to the story. No doubt, this short novel is powerful, raising some pertinent questions despite its length and the simplicity of its plot. Fatou is a domestic helper for the Derawals, in suburbs of north London. The Embassy of Cambodia is located in this neighbourhood, and the story takes place outside this embassy. On Monday mornings, Fatou sneaks out for her swims at the nearby clubhouse using her employer’s guest passes. It is during these trips that she would pass by the embassy.

I finished the book within two hours in a single reading. In a small volume, it talks about globalization, modern day slavery, genocide, social injustice and religion. Easy to read, but takes time to digest.

The fact is if we followed the history of every little country in this world – in its dramatic as well as its quiet times – we would have no space left in which to live our own lives or to apply ourselves to our necessary tasks, never mind indulge in occasional pleasures, like swimming.

Surely there is something to be said for drawing a circle around our attention and remaining within that circle. But how large should this circle be?

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