A.L. Becker Prize winner: A New Sun Rises Over the Old Land March 1, 2022 17:23

NUS Press’ A New Sun Rises Over the Old Land: A Novel of Sihanouk’s Cambodia (2019), by Suon Sorin and translated by Roger Nelson, has been awarded the A.L. Becker Southeast Asian Literature in Translation Prize by the Association for Asian Studies (AAS).

The prize comes with a cash award to the translator, and is awarded triennially to “an outstanding English translation of a work of Southeast Asian literature from any country of the region”. This is our third major prize from the AAS since breaking through as the first Asian press to win a prize back in 2015.

Read an excerpt from the book below:


Chapter 7: The Traffic Accident (pp 43-49)

Three months passed so slowly…. During his three months in the Kuk Thom prison, Sam suffered in unspeakable ways.

At last, the day of freedom arrived for Sam, the poor, unlucky worker. His hardship was finally at an end. The court had ruled that he was to be released on Tuesday morning.

The night before his release, Sam couldn’t sleep at all. He was so excited to see the light outside the prison walls, and to be reunited with his poor wife.

At eight o’clock in the morning, the deputy prison chief called for Sam to report to his office. “Sam!” he said. “It’s time for your release. You must do your best to do the right thing, now, Sam, and don’t let me see you here again. I wish you all the best, I wish you success and happiness. Go on, Sam! Your lovely wife is waiting for you.”

Sam raised his hands in a sampeah of thanks and respect to the deputy prison chief, and left his office feeling like a new man. He was so happy, to know the feeling of freedom once more.

A lovely woman’s voice called out to him. Sam felt his hair stand on end. He turned to his right, and saw his poor, lovely wife running toward him, beaming with happiness. Sam and Soy greeted each other with tears of joy, mixed together with their tears of suffering.

“My dear! I’ve been waiting for you,” Soy exclaimed. “I came with Mey. He’s parked his cyclo over there.”

Sam looked over and saw Mey standing by the cyclo, smiling and congratulating him for his freedom. He turned back to his wife. “Darling Soy. My punishment is over! Let’s go, my dear. Let’s get out of here, quick! I never want to see this place again.” He took her by the hand, and led her over to where Mey was standing. The two friends shook hands and smiled to each other.

“Sam!” Mey said. “I’m so happy that you’re free at last. You must start a new life now, Sam! And don’t worry, I’ve found a cyclo to rent for you already, and the new owner is very kind.”

Sam’s eyes filled with tears. “Brother Mey! You’re so kind to us. I’ll never forget your kindness, in all my life.”

“It’s nothing,” Mey answered. “Like I’ve told you before, we’re friends, and that means that whenever either of us is suffering, the other will do anything we can to help. So go on! Hop on the cyclo, and I’ll take you home.”

“No, brother!” Sam answered. “You can ride in the cyclo with Soy, go on. Let me pedal it instead. I haven’t driven a cyclo for three months, so let me pedal this time!”

Mey shook his head in refusal. “No! Don’t, Sam. You’re so excited by your freedom that you’d crash into someone for sure! And then we’d be in trouble all over again. Go on, let me pedal this time, it’ll be easier.” Sam grinned, and hopped onto the cyclo with his wife. Mey turned the vehicle around, and headed towards their home near the Wat Mahamontrey temple.

The next morning, Mey took Sam to meet the new cyclo owner, who was a widowed millionaire named Grandmother Kan. She was around fifty years old, and owned about thirty cyclo. When they arrived, she told them that regrettably all thirty had been rented out already. Sam felt defeated, but he sat down to talk awhile with Grandmother Kan. She asked him all about himself, and Sam told her everything, recounting every detail of his misfortune. Grandmother Kan felt very sorry for poor Sam.

“I really pity you and your wife,” she said, truthfully. “Your hardships have been caused by wealthy people, I know, but please don’t think that all wealthy people are nasty like that. We’re not all the same. Some wealthy people really do understand about the life of poor people. I’m not trying to boast, but no matter what happens to me, I always feel sympathy for people who are poor. Mey knows it, too. I only charge very little rent for my cyclo—just twenty-five riels for one day and one night—and if it happens that you can’t earn the money to come and pay the rental fee, I’ll let you borrow from me too, and I never charge interest on the loan.”

Sam raised his hands to sampeah to Grandmother Kan. He respected her sense of pity for the cyclo driving workers. “Madam! I humbly wish you the best of health and success in your every endeavour. If only other wealthy people could have compassion for the poor like you do, Madam, our lives would certainly be much easier.”

“Well that settles it, then,” Grandmother Kan said. “I’ll help to find a cyclo for you to drive. Come back to see me in two or three days, and I guarantee I’ll have a cyclo for you.”

As Mey brought Sam home, they felt an indescribable joy. Sam felt sure he would be getting a cyclo soon, thanks to the kind millionaire’s generosity.

* * *

At dusk on Friday, it was drizzling lightly. Sam rode his cyclo along Depot Boulevard, heading back home after bringing a passenger to the Eden Cinema. A black Peugeot car drove up behind him, very fast. The driver was a woman, and a man sat next to her. She’d only recently learned how to drive from her boyfriend.

A Plymouth car was also coming very quickly toward Sam, from the front. The woman who was driving the Peugeot thought she would race against Sam’s cyclo. Sam swerved to avoid the Plymouth that was heading towards him, just as it passed by. The inexperienced driver of the Peugeot was afraid she might crash into the Plymouth, so she jerked the steering wheel to the right, but the car veered too far off the road, and into the mud. She hit Sam’s cyclo at full speed, and—crash!—the impact was like a stone smashing an eggshell.

The cyclo was overturned, and Sam went flying, landing flat on his face. The woman driving the Peugeot was terrified. She hit the brakes, but her boyfriend told her “Go! Quickly, go! Don’t stop!”

The black Peugeot shot ahead like an arrow, and then turned away to the left. It sped off without any care for whether the driver of the cyclo was dead or alive, and no one saw the car’s licence number, either.

Sam lay motionless. He had been knocked unconscious. The rain fell on him as the blood flowed from his head, his arms, and his legs. A crowd of people began to form, talking noisily but doing nothing to help him.

Mey and his family lived in a hot and stuffy hut, lit only by the pale light of a kerosene lamp. Mey, Mom and Soy were talking about Sam, who had taken his cyclo out in search of a fare in the early afternoon, and still not come back home. The three of them were worried that perhaps he’d been hit by a car, or caught by the police, or something.

Midnight passed…. The children in the neighbouring houses had all fallen asleep, and so had their parents; everything was silent. Rain drizzled quietly, and the air was cool, but they kept the door to the hut open. Mey, Mom and especially Soy couldn’t stop staring out into the night. Every few minutes, Soy would go up to the doorway and look outside.

Sam never came home later than ten o’clock at night. He never went out socialising or drinking, and he never went to the movies or to the theatre, either. So of course, Mey, Mom and Soy couldn’t help but be afraid.

Soy looked terrified, and she let out a long sigh. “I’m afraid Sam has been in an accident,” she said.

“No! We don’t know that yet,” Mey insisted. “Sometimes passengers ask to travel a long distance, or they hire a cyclo to go around at all hours.”

Soy sighed deeply again. “Don’t remind me, Mey! These days, the city’s not safe, you know!”

“Don’t worry, Soy!” Mey said. “Sam’s a good driver. He’d never let a car hit him. Don’t get too agitated. Let’s wait a bit longer, and if he’s still not back, then I’ll take my cyclo out and go look for him.”

Hearing this, Soy looked relieved, but she was still worried. Her husband had never come home so late before.

One o’clock passed…. Sam still hadn’t come back home. The three of them sat, huddled together in worry. “Mey! Please, take pity on me and go out to look for him, will you? I’m worried sick,” Soy pleaded.

Before Mey could answer, Mom chimed in. “Yes, you should! It’s very strange that he’s not home yet. Go on, dear! And bring Soy to ride along in your cyclo, too!”

Mey looked at his wife. “But where should we go to look for him, huh?” he asked.

“Well, you should go to look in the hospital first!” Mom suggested. “If Sam has been in an accident, the police or anyone else involved will have brought him to the hospital. If you can’t find him in the hospital, then you should go to look in the police station. Perhaps Sam has crashed into someone, or been involved in some kind of dispute, and been arrested.”

Mey nodded his head. “You’re right. Let’s go!” Soy agreed.

Mey brought Soy to the Preah Ket Mealea Hospital, and parked his cyclo in front of the gate.10 Soy hopped down from the cyclo, and Mey lifted his hands in a sampeah to greet the guard, who was sitting at his desk. “Excuse me, sir,” Mey asked him. “Sir, have you seen a cyclo driver come in here, someone who had been in an accident?”

“Yes, we have!” the guard answered. “At seven-thirty, the police from the Chinese Hospital brought a cyclo driver here. He’d hit his head, and had some serious injuries.”

Soy’s heart sank. “Excuse me, sir,” she asked the guard, in a pressing tone. “What was his name?”

The guard smiled, and said that he didn’t know the man’s name. “My job is just to guard the gate. But wait a moment, and I’ll go to ask the nurse for you,” he said. He went into the hospital for a moment, then rushed quickly back. “The patient’s name was Sam! Is that right? Do you know him?”

“Yes!” Soy answered. “Yes, he’s my husband!” She was in shock, hearing that her husband had been in an accident. She began to sob.

Mey asked the guard, in a panicked tone, “Sir! Can I please go inside to see him? Do you know how the patient is now?”

“I don’t know how he is,” the guard answered in a pitying voice, “but I heard them say it was very serious. Please, go ahead, go to the waiting room first, and ask to meet the doctor. Perhaps the doctor will give you permission to visit him.” The guard pointed toward the entrance.

Mey followed the guard’s directions, and brought Soy directly to the waiting room. A doctor and a nurse were standing by the doorway, and Mey and Soy both raised their hands and respectfully greeted the doctor with a sampeah.

“Your excellency!” Mey said to the doctor. “May I please visit Sam, sir?”

The doctor looked up, and thought for a moment. “Which Sam? The cyclo driver?”

“Yes, that’s right!” Soy answered. “The guard told us that he’d been hit by a car, and was badly hurt!”

The doctor sighed deeply. “The patient is in great danger; he has very serious injuries. I can allow you to visit him for a few minutes, but please don’t bother or disturb the patient, you hear? Come, he’s in this ward.” The doctor led Mey and Soy to Sam’s hospital room. Soy sobbed, her tears flowing with pity for her husband. Soy thought that Sam must be the unluckiest man alive. He’d only been out of prison for a few days, and then a car had run into him!

Perhaps he would die tonight, if the injuries were too much for him to bear. After all, the doctor had warned her that Sam’s condition was very dangerous.

The door to the ward was open, and the electric lights shone brightly inside. The doctor led Mey and Soy into Sam’s room, and when they saw the bed to the left of the room, they stood in shock. Sam had been placed on a bed alone, and his body was covered in cuts and bruises, to which the doctor had carefully applied medicine. His head was wrapped all the way around in large bandages, and there was bright red blood on his neck. Both his arms were scratched and scraped, and his elbows were bleeding. Sam was fast asleep, and his breathing was shallow and irregular. His face was drained of colour, and his mouth was open slightly.

“Darling!” Soy screamed, her voice echoing through the room. She rushed toward Sam, but a nurse hurried over to stop her.

“Don’t!” the nurse told her. “Don’t touch him at all. The patient is in a great deal of pain. Let him sleep, he needs to save his strength.”

Soy wept. Her heart felt like it would stop beating. She was overwhelmed with feelings of love mixed with pity.

“Your excellency!” Mey raised his hands in a sampeah as he addressed the doctor. “Where is the driver of the car that hit him, sir?”

The doctor looked tired. He yawned, and then he spoke very softly, as if he didn’t want to answer Mey’s question. “I don’t know where they went. The police that brought the patient here said that the driver of the car had sped away, and disappeared. No one knows the car licence plate number.” The doctor then turned toward Soy, and spoke to her with some welcome words of comfort. “Come, come, don’t fret. I’ll take care of him, to the best of my ability. Try not to worry too much, these things happen. Please, you head back home now, as the patient needs a lot of rest. His injuries are severe, and he’s lost a lot of blood.”

Soy looked intently at her husband’s face, without blinking. Her tears were flowing, again.

“Let’s go, Soy!” Mey whispered. “Let’s go home. And don’t speak too loudly, I’m afraid we’ll wake Sam.” They both bid farewell to the doctor with a sampeah, and turned to go home, filled with worry. As they left the room, Soy turned back to see her husband one more time, her heart heavy with sorrow.

* * *

The new month came to an end…. Sam had been in hospital for over a month. After the first week, his injuries began to heal well. Thanks to the expertise of the highly respected doctors at Preah Ket Mealea Hospital, Sam was almost himself again. When he was finally well, the doctor granted him permission to be discharged, and to return home.

The car that had hit Sam still could not be found. But Sam’s injuries were not his fault, and he had been hurt through no action of his own. Not only that, but his cyclo, which was essential to his livelihood, had also been completely destroyed.

Sam resolved that he would no longer drive a cyclo to earn a living…. He decided to find another job, instead. Driving a cyclo didn’t earn him enough money, and it left him utterly exhausted, every day drenching himself in sweat. It was not good for his health, and what’s more, it was perilously dangerous. Cars in the city drove so fast, as if they were racing each other. No one drove at the legal speed limit, which was just thirty kilometres an hour.

There were many more victims of traffic accidents, suffering all kinds of injuries. A great deal of people lost their lives, too.