by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton) ISBN NO: 978-0-241-14652-1
Don’t let its length fool you. The Embassy of Cambodia is a compelling story that remains with you long after you’ve lent this little book to a friend.
Fatou, a young West African girl, works for the Derawal family in upmarket Brondesbury Park in London. She’s a survivor, but an unlikely one. Just as nobody told her that African women don’t teach themselves to swim in the choppy, dirty sea off the coast of Accra, nobody told her that the Derawal’s mistreatment of her is actually servitude. So, in her own, uncomplicated way, she perseveres, going steadily about her days. She grants herself two simple pleasures – Sunday coffee and cake with her friend, Andrew, and stealing away for her weekly swim at the health centre.
On the way to the pool, she passes the Embassy of Cambodia and the eternal badminton game being played behind its high walls. The shuttlecock is lobbed, its arc visible above the wall, and is smashed back in return. Pock, smash. With each pock, smash, the players become more entrenched in their roles of submission and conquest … or is it violent conclusion and hopeful return? How will gentle Fatou’s tale end?
Zadie Smith’s writing is profound. This is one for the bookshelf.