Brief Book Reviews
Kesavila, Somseng. ed. Contes Populaires de Tradion Orale du Laos, (bilingual Lao Folk Tales in Lao and French with French translation by Dr Lamvieng Inthamone, no publisher indicated), 1995.
This small collection of Lao folk tales consists of 10 popular stories, eight of which originally appeared in the Lao literary magazine "Vannasin" follwing a national competition organised in Vientaine in 1989. The author has added two other stories to the collection: "Phou Thao – Phou Nang" also known as "Louk Nang Sipsong" (the child of the twelve princesses), and the legend of the Khene (the national musical instrument of Laos).
The other stories are: Sai Viset (the magic bamboo basket), Siengpi Thao Kamphoay (the sound of the flute), Khon Khewkan (a man like others), Phixu Kao (the ghost of the old flame), Kampha Salat (the smart orphan), Song Euinong (twin sisters), Khad dai bo honsia (pre-rodained things), and Moke Thao (a packet of ash).
The stories are told simply in the style of oral story telling popular in rural Laos where story telling used to be one of the major forms of evening entertainment for children after a hard day’s work in the fields. Today, with the advent of schools (home work), radio and television, story telling has become a lost art, except in remote villages which are without modern distractions.
This collection is sure to delight many young (and old) readers. It is published in both Lao and French – with each corresponding page in the two languages laid out alongside for easy reading in either language. Dr Inthamone, an assistant Lao language professor at the Institute of Contemporary Oriental Languages in Paris, did an excellent translation into French of the ten stories – with a simple style which makes the reasing of each story flows effortlessly. Each story runs about 4-5 pages and has hand-drawn illustrations.
This collection is one of the few available to people interested in Lao legends and culture, both inside and outside of Laos. Many young people of Lao descent now living in Western countries may not be able to identify with some of the concepts and themse in the stories. However, older Lao refugees will find these tales a very nostalgic reminder of the old country they left behind many years ago.
Conboy, K and Morrison, J. Shadow War: the CIA’s Secret War in Laos (Boulder, Colorado: Paladin Press, 1995).
This book, although published in 1995, is a most timely publication and one of the few that deals directly with the civil war in Laos – from days of the French through to the end of the American involvement in 9175. It is the most comprehensive coverage of this very complex period of Lao modern history – and also the most readable.
The main author, Kenneth Conboy, worked as a policy analyst and was deputy director of the Asian Studies Centre in Washington, DC, and has written books on the war in Southeast Asia (Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia). The book stemmed from Mr Conboy’s original plan to research and write a book on the Royal Lao Air Force.
There are 30 chapters in the book, each very well researched and documented with references and interviews of eye-wtinesses and actual participants in the events concerned. It gives a chronological account of the American intervention in the war in Laos, beginning with the Lao Issara movement for independence from French colonialism, the French defeat in Dien Bien Phu, the growth of the Lao modern army, and various incidents which prcipitated into full-scale civil war in the 1960’s, and eventual take-over by the Pathet Lao (PL) in 1975.
This chronological record of events apart, the most imnportant aspect of this publication is its detailed account of the major military campaigns waged by the Royal Lao Army against PL and North Vietnamese troops from North to South of Laos, the casualties, the successes and failures. Exact locations of military units and troop positions were marked on maps, amd all major players and military strategies were discussed – with many photos.
The book wiil serve as a reminder for our ageing former milirary officers and army commanders on the Royal Lao Government side about the roles they played or failed to play during the long years of the war. It is also a tribute to the courage and the ultimate sacrifices which were made by ten of thousands of ordniary soldiers who are now forgotten – with not even a memorial in their names.
Those Lao readers who were too young or only accustomed to the comfort of city life, without being affected directly by the fightings and the war, will find the book an eye-opening experience. They will learn how much Laos was ravaged by the war, in areas away from the safer towns and cities, and how many people suffered or were affected because of the ideological differences of the Lao elite or some pig-headed military leaders.
Copyright 1998/99, Lao Studies Society.
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