Socheata Vong

My thoughts about beloved Cambodia

Who is the Cambodian ‘Rabbit Novelist’?

Pens and papers have always been her best friends in her entire life for her hand-written novels. She has enjoyed the solitude at home, composing invented stories to save the life of Khmer literature.  The characteristics of her protagonists reflect the pure Cambodian society: sympathetic, gentle, beautiful, patient, helpful and brave. Readers could relate to her stories and imagine to places which she invents in a classic way.  She is extraordinarily capable of describing a place which looks very simple to everyone as a romantic and even a mysterious scene. Her novels are full of tastes: mistake, destiny, fate, misery, struggle, failure, success, i.e. bitter sweet life.  She makes the novels into a world of romantic fantasy, and she relates readers to the earliest time and the latest.  Titles of her novels are written in a very attractive way: the ‘Black Rose’, the ‘Moon Light’, Rolok Boak Khsach (‘Wave Hits the Sand’), the ‘Moon Rises across the Border’, and the ‘Music Love of the Past’.   She has devoted her life to the Khmer literature.  Her writing is the symbol of artistic romance.  This genuine novelist is no one but Mao SamnangBy Socheata Vong

mao-sonang2

Mao Samnang (below) and two of her well-known novels (above)

Hundreds of Khmer novels sold at local news-stands throughout Cambodia were written by Mao Samnang.  This self-proclaimed “trashy novelist”, she calls herself “Rubbish Writter”, is one of the most famous authors in Cambodia.  Her protagonists are handsome strong men and beautiful swooning women, and their lives fill hugely popular Mills & Boon-style romances for just one dollar a book.

Mao, 52, leads a simple life, sitting in solitude at her desk at her home in Beak Chan (near Phnom Penh) where she lives with her two children. She works for 10 hours a day in a quiet room and always with pen in hand.  She doesn’t own a computer.  Mao has led this life for nearly 30 years discovering writing as an art-form, and as a means of income, at the age of 23. Since 1980, she has written more than 200 Khmer novels, more than 100 Khmer screenplays and a few songs and poems.

“I was a journalist for a while when my books weren’t in such demand in Cambodia during the late 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, but since then I have begun [writing] again and [sales] are getting better now.” Mao says

Mao’s life story is not so different from other Cambodians of the same generation. She left her studies in 1975 because of the Pol Pot regime, just as she had almost finished high school.  Her father, a teacher in Sihanoukville, was killed and then she lost her mother, leaving Mao, her sister and three brothers, orphaned.  “My family and I have survived, dependent on my career since I began writing.” she says.  When Pol Pot’s regime fell, the state nominated Mao to be a teacher at a primary school, but she soon resigned as her first book, written in 1981, was so successful Mao made more money from the writing than the teaching.  “I became a novelist by chance and only knew how to write from reading and through some experiences with my father.  When I was learning [at school], I always got good marks in Khmer literature because my father was a Khmer literature teacher who forced me to read many Khmer books.”

“I never studied at schools for writers or at any tertiary institution for that matter, but when I write, some experienced novelists consider my writing as comparable to those who did actually study their craft.”  When Mao wrote her novel in the nearly eighties there were only rudimentary machines for copying, there were no photocopiers or computers and the common currency of those times was gold.  Mao says her first novel was written by hand and purely for her own enjoyment, but quite by accident a businessman read it and was interested enough to buy the book from her. He employed students to make copies of this book, again by all hand, and began distributing it throughout Phnom Penh and several provinces for three huns (0.375 gram) of gold.  “I was really surprised at the price of the book…because three huns at that time was the same as my monthly salary, that’s what pushed me to leave my job as a teacher and become a writer.  It earned me a very good income.”

Between 1980 and 1985 Mao wrote an astonishing 120 novels of 150 pages each.  She then left the world of books for a time to concentrate on writing screenplays, of which she wrote more than 100, until the Cambodian film market collapsed in the late 1990s.  Then she worked as a journalist for the Women’s Media Center, also at the Cambodian Women’s Voice Center and at the now defunct maganize Kol Thida until 2003, when she returned to the novel, again reaping the financial rewards.

“In my life I have faced the difficulties of the Pol Pot regime.  I lost my parents and in the late 1990s and early 2000s work was scarce when Khmer movies and novels lost popularity because of growing foreign influences, especially that of Thai films.  But now I can say things are very good for me. I can earn approximately $1,000 per month.”

In the last couple of years, Mao’s workload has increased and since 2003 she has sold 10 hand-written novels and five screenplays: The Magic Forest, The Strange Resident, The Daughter of Keng Kang Snake, The Gratitude and Tom Teav – a film based on a poem of the same name about a monk leaving the monastery to marry.  “I spend a month [writing] a novel these days, but when I was young I could do it in only 10 days,” Mao says.  The most successful book that Mao has written to date is Rolok Boak Khsach (‘The Wave Hits the Sand’), which was awarded first prize in the Preah Sihanouk Reach competition in 1995.  She has also won The Garland of Jasmine and a Save the Children Norway award.  Mao says readers enjoy their novels because she always keeps her protagonists’ characteristics the same from novel to novel.  “[In] nearly all my novels, the male characters are always brave, honest, handsome, sympathetic, while the females are always gentle, patient, and beautiful.  They represent men and women in Khmer society,” she says.

These days Mao shares her expertise with the students at the Khmer Writers’ Association and in the future plans to deal directly with the printer rather than through the middleman.  Mao Samnang, the very successful Rubbish Writer, wants to be in charge of her own destiny now.

Source: The Cambodian Scene (2005, page 5 and 6)

The best e-reader you can buy

35 Comments

  1. Hey thx for the post. I think i have read many of her writings as well if i don’t remember it wrongly. She possesses such a talent which not many people have. I read more of her book in late 1980 or early 90s when outside film was not that available as now. Really like her writing 🙂

  2. Thanks for your interest. Now she has composed more and more novels available at book stores with the remaining price of a single dollar. Moreover, she produced some films on the big screen including the rumor-based ‘Haunted House’ in your hometown. It proved to be a success when it was on the screen. 🙂 When you come back, you’ll find a lot of her newly composed stories.

  3. Hi Socheata

    Your post so nice, I really support your writing. I’ve read a lot of writer, but the one still in my favorite is her.

    If you have new on her publication, Please shared me Phong Na!!!

  4. My dear Rathana, thanks for your interest. We have the same reading appetite on her novels. 🙂 I have some more of her newly composed ones and will share them with you soon nah.

  5. Hi Socheata,

    Nice work. I am also a big fan of Mao Samnang’s novels.
    How can i read her stories on-line? If you have her stories, please share them with me. Thanks in advance.

  6. Hi Terry,

    Thanks for your comment and interest. I recently found a website that contains Mao Samnang’s on-line stories. Yet, it doesn’t have her newly-composed ones. Though, I hope you find it interesting. Check it out at http://www.lovekhmer.com

  7. I have read some of her books. I also wish to become a good writer like her and I have this potential by God. But I do not know how to formally become a formal writer. Do I need to register? Do I need to be a member of Khmer Writer Association?

    Looking forward to hearing your feedback.

  8. To the best of my knowledge, to become a writer you need to register and become a member of the Khmer Writer Association. I would strongly recommend that you do this way. I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you need any help I may be of to.

  9. Helpful Socheata.

    Is it easy or difficult to get my name registered at the Khmer Writer Association? Do I need to complete any course to qualify myself first? In short, what are the criterias?

    I am keen to become a fiction/novel writer now. Sometimes I thought I would quit my current job and committed myself in writing but how could my family survive if I could not earn at least 500usd/month.

    So far I wrote a novel. I made some copies and pretested it. Readers said, they cried, they smiled and did not feel sleepy reading my novel. I am very motivated now to push my writing into my forever carrer.

    I do not know in Cambodia whether there is a publisher who can support my writing.

    Sorry I keep you long reading my message but I am very curious now about writing.

    Looking forward to hearing from you again.

  10. I don’t think it is difficult getting your name registered. I called Mao Samnang the other day and we briefly talked about the registration but not much detail. Once registered, you will be issued a card member and other procedures will follow through. The location of the association is near Wat Botum. You may send me an email via my contact and we’ll talk about that if there is any further info I may be able to provide you.

    Sounds like you already have a good job. Actually, you wouldn’t necessarily need to quit your job. You may spend your extra time writing novels though I know it takes time, energy, and spiritual strength to achieve that. As far as I know, to public a novel, you need to contact printing shops like Angkor Thom Bookshop or you may seek guidance from the association about this.

    I really admire your inspiration of becoming a writer. I can see that now there are more young and talented writers. A good writer can demonstrate his/her extraordinary ability to relate readers to the story, and that’s how I am very much appreciative of such an aptitude. And I think you have this potential.

  11. Thank Socheata. I am even more encouraged by your reply. I will contact the association soon to learn the process.

    Believe me or not, last couple years ago I went to a famous palm reader and he told me that if I wrote, I would become a famous writer. When I was back home I started thinking about his words and looked back to my past then I found out that when I was a child, I was a famous story teller among peers. I liked telling story to others and when I was telling a story, many kids who were the same my age were sitting around and listening to my story. Moreover, I was always touched when I listened to a story telling on Radio. I also remembered that when I was a highschool student and when I was bored, I alsways picked up a paper and wrote about anything and then my bore had gradually been dismissed from my feeling.

    Oh! sorry it is a long message again but if it was not long, I would not be a writer.

    My email address is sininkith@yahoo.com We can communicate more through this email if you like.

    I am always touched to read your reply.

    Cheers,
    Sinin

  12. Hi Sinin. Thanks for the email contact info. I’d send you an email if we wish to communicate about this further. I love reading your message and the more you write the more I feel touched. Your story sounds interesting! I understand how you are touched by a story, and that’s how the way I feel too. You’ve developed your romance and feel emotionally and heartily touched by any particular story or event and you relate yourself to it. That’s what a good writer naturally possesses and it is a gifted talent to convince and relate readers to feel in the same way. Having said so, I hope your potential will pave you a way to become a good writer. Keep up your dream!

    Inspire,
    Socheata

  13. Hi Socheata,

    You know? yesterday I went to the Khmer Writer Association. It is located in a pagoda. The day was full of cloud; everywhere was shaded not only under trees. Once I arrived in the pagoda by my Jeep Cherokee, It was quiet, calm and peaceful; it may because it is a pagoda compound. I was blank at that time because it was my first time to go in the place. There were many buildings; some small; some big and some old and some new. There were a few men sitting and reading books under a big tree in front of the old wooden house. I immediately thought they must be a pagoda boy who came from provinces to continue their study in Phnom Penh. I decided to park under the same tree as they sat in. I aksed them where the Khmer Writer Assocation is and then I walked through their fingers and through several buildings in order to reach the center.

    The center was not a big and new one. There were four people sitting in and one is a monk. They were nice and gave me a warm service. While I was filling out the form, I was feeling like my mum was helping me moving my hand to write a letter. Unbelievably, I was spiritually surprised that I just first met them but I felt I had know them for long time; it may because we had the same feeling as a romance writer or the God gave us the same emotion.

    Although I was back to my workplace, my spirit was still remained at the center.

    It is just now that I know how I feel when I am at my place.

    Unbreakable Spirit,
    Sinin (Kamsot or Smyd)

    Smyd = Social Morality for Youth Development

  14. Hi Kamsot,

    Glad you had a chance to go there. It would be great if you let me know how you would proceed after filling out the application. You are amazing! You just stepped at the center but already made an impression. That’s how I am appreciative of such talent i.e. being able to compose stories wherever a writer goes. I also understand that a writer’s romance is full of rhymes. Btw, I did not know whom you met and who caught your spiritual impression but how you described it was very interesting!

    Inspire,
    Socheata

  15. HI Socheata,

    Firstly, I went to Cambodia Yellow page and found a phone number. I called the number and I heard the man voice. His voice were like a woman. So I called him her and then he said I would had dialed the wrong number. Finally, we reached the communication.

    Once I arrived the center, I recognized his voice and he recognized my voice. Then he asked me to sit down and I revealed him what my ambition was to come to the center. Then he told me that he had been in the center for more than 15 years already.

    His assistant brought me a form to complete. My first novel and passport size photoes were required to attach with the form to submit to a senior person whom I do not know who he is yet. After all she said she would call me my form is approved.

    Now I am just turning on my phone and waiting to hear the feedback from her.

    Spiritual,
    Kamsot

  16. Hi Kamsot,

    Thanks for telling the story. I know the name of the senior person you are talking about. He is the head of the association and I often hear his name in the news. Anyway, hope everything will be well-proceeded.

    You already submitted your first novel? What’s the title? I’m excited to hear about that. It would be great if I have a chance to read it. You know, I’m always touched and impressed by how a writer gives a title to a novel. I really love Mék Bat Dungchan (Sky without Moon), Bamplich Men Ban, Cheung Mék Thmey, Chruos Phnom Koulén, Mék Srokar Neak, Rolok Boak Ksach, Yub Mian Thgnai Reah etc. They are awesome!

    Inspire,
    Socheata

  17. Hi Socheata,

    My novel titled Tboung Khmum Chum Rum Chet.

    Through having communication with you these couple days, I doubt you are in Cambodia or somewhere in this world.

    I guess you are not in Cambodia. Am I right?

    Cheers,
    Sinin

  18. Hi Kamsot,

    That sounds an interesting title! When you publish it, I’ll seek your permission to get a word out about this novel by posting a cover picture and writing a synopsis in English in my blog if at all possible.

    Btw, I was born and grown up in our beautiful and beloved country and my heart and soul are always here. There are times that I was somewhere in this world other than our country but the spiritual sentiment always stays with me wherever I go.

    Inspire,
    Socheata

  19. Hi Socheata,

    I may have told you that I am looking for a supporter to get my novel printed off. So far I have not found anyone yet. So, I have just got it copied and distributed to friends for comments.

    I really wish to get your comments on my writing but do you know how to read Khmer language as you said there were times that you was somewhere in this world other than our beautiful and beloved country?

    Of course, I support your idea that our country is beautiful. But I may have more sense of beauty than you because I was born and grown up in a very rural village. I like the field, trees, grasses, water, rainfall, hill, birds’ voice, sunrise and sunset over there.

    Rural Man
    Kamsot

  20. Hi Kamsot,

    Just so you know, I also was born in a remote area of Banteaymeanchey a few years after the fall of the KR regime. My whole family was evacuated from Phnom Penh to an area on the west part of Battambang which later became Banteaymeanchey. I am truly a country person who has deep sentiments about our countryside. I am appreciative of beauty of our nature, culture, and benevolent arrangement of things like the sunrise and sunset attached to the scenery of our countryside. That’s how I develop my own sentiments towards Sin Sisamuth and our other old artists whose music uniquely depicted the genuine landscapes of our beloved country. My true feelings about walking in the rain and watching the sunset in the countryside are indescribable.

    Well, I mean there were times that I was out of country to witness a different world, but I am Khmer. Also, I am strongly convinced that a girl who was once awarded a title of “National Intellectuals of Khmer Literacy” really can read Khmer language. 🙂

    I am really keen on reading your novel and providing comments and feedback if I have any.

    Inspire,
    Socheata

  21. Hi Socheata,

    Oh ho………..you had experienced in the war!

    I was born one year after Pol Pot regime. Athough that time the was considered over but in my village there were full of Pol Pot soldiers living in the forest behind the village.

    Shooling was not popular among children although it was 5 years latter. That’s why among the people in my communce only I had an apportunity to hold BA degree and work under airconditioner today. Therefore, how much I feel proud of myself now equals to how much I feel sympathy of the people in my commune. Doing thing alone is boring but doing thing together makes more fun. I wish they all had an opportunity like I had.

    Walking alone 5 kilometers without shoes through the forest where dead soldiers buried was my duties when I was an elementary school student. And riding bycicle alone 9 kilometers through robbery forest area was my secondary school life. Moving out from family to live with others was my task I needed to do to continue my high schoold. Finally, living in a pagoda with monks in Phnom Penh served me BA degree. Now sitting under an airconditioner and looking back into 23 years ago, I am wondering how come I could do it!

    I should make these experiences in my fourth novel.

    Anyways, I am pleased to send you the PDF file of my novel but how can I send you?

    Last but not least, it is my great honor to know you. I really admire you that you were awarded the National Intellectuals of Khmer Literacy. Not many people could do it and it is even least for those who live abroad. Thanks for preserving Cambodia.

    I hope I will have more opportunity to learn from you.

    Spirit,
    Kamsot

  22. Hi Kamsot,

    It was a great fortune that I did not experience in the war; I was born in the early 1980s under the Vietnam backed-regime. Though, the smell of gunpowder did not fade away. When I was in elementary school, I and other kids were studying under a daily threat of bombing by the KR troops, and we had to hide ourselves in big holes which were digged everywhere in the school. During that time, everyone was living with fear. From the People’s Republic of Kampuchea till the State of Cambodia regimes, everyone had had a normal life until the first ever democratic event took place in 1993.

    You have come through a lot of struggle. Finally, you have found your way of living a happy life. I encourage you to turn your story into a short novel.

    It is also a great honor to get to know you too. I’ll send you an email right after this to get your PDF file. I look forward to reading your novel.

    Inspire,
    Socheata

  23. Hi Socheata,

    How are you?

    Have you read my fiction story yet?

    Cheers,
    Kamsot

  24. you so quiet lately………….what happened to you?

  25. Hi Kamsot, I printed your story but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet; apology for that. Hope to get back to you soon.

  26. Hi Socheata, just take your time. reading novels in a dumpy time is not a good deal.

  27. Dear Socheata,

    Thanks for the post. Could you please give me the reference of the article? You mention «The Cambodian Scene (2005), page 5 and 6). But it stills incomplete as credible source for my academic writing. So, could you give the complete date (month) and number issue of the magazine? Thanks in advance for your help.

    All the bests

    Reatrey

  28. Hi Reatrey,

    Thanks for your interest. Actually it was a journal which I had found by chance and I scanned the portion of the article (page 5 and 6) for my reading appetite. I didn’t remember the month and this article didn’t mention about the number issue either. Sorry for that.

    Best,
    Socheata

  29. Hi Socheata,

    Thanks for your response. I will try to find it by another source.

    Reatrey

  30. Hi e.body,

    I hope you are all fine. I, one of the novel readers. I am please to join here. I hope she (rabit novelist) will publish more story include the story that she wrote b4. i will buy for reading cos i really like to read her novel. 🙂

  31. Hi Jasmine,

    It is nice to know about your interests. She has recently written new novels which are now available at book stores. Thanks for your continued support to her writing.

    Inspire,
    Socheata

  32. Hi, Rabit Novelist

    I do like reading your novels so much, and I have all of your novels. They are very fascinating. I wish you should have create your own website.

    Finally, wish you succeed in your career and have more fans. 😉

  33. Dear, Rabit Novelist

    May I have your email address, please?

  34. I need to read her novel in Internet I hope she will post it

  35. Dear Miss. Mao somnang
    I really support & like your writting so much…. 🙂
    85 books… I have finished read…
    Good writer..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© MMXVI Socheata Vong

site by: tharum.comgo up ↑