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National Book Fair Renews Hope for Cambodian Literary Scene


A billboard at the entrance of the 7th Cambodia Book Fair ambassador at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)

Ouk Bonheang, 25, a young author, said the rise was due to a growing appreciation among young Cambodians for literacy.

Cambodia held its seventh annual Book Fair last week, raising hopes among Cambodia’s literary aficionados that it could help create a revival in the country’s literary scene.

A sign saying “Young Cambodian Writers” in the 7th Cambodia Book Fair ambassador at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)
A sign saying “Young Cambodian Writers” in the 7th Cambodia Book Fair ambassador at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)

Soeng Nisay, 21, the book fair’s coordinator, said the number of participants have swelled dramatically this year.

He claimed that more than 130,000 people attended the fair this year, up from 52,000 in 2017, partly due to a large number of young people who turned up to receive free books donated by Prime Minister Hun Sen through the Union Youth Federations of Cambodia, which is led by his son, Hun Many.

Children take part in the 7th Cambodia Book Fair ambassador at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)
Children take part in the 7th Cambodia Book Fair ambassador at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)

The fair, he said, was aimed at promoting the work of local authors and encouraging a literary culture in the country.

“Another thing I noticed is the number of publishers and writers has risen. Last year there were only 80 stalls, but this year we had about 115.”

Participants take part in the 7th Cambodia Book Fair at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)
Participants take part in the 7th Cambodia Book Fair at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)

Ouk Bonheang, 25, a young author, said the rise was due to a growing appreciation among young Cambodians for literacy.

“I think that firstly, the importance of reading for our younger generation is understood because when we read, we obtain new knowledge,” he said.

Participants queue up to get book given for free in the 7th Cambodia Book Fair at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)
Participants queue up to get book given for free in the 7th Cambodia Book Fair at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)

He added that increased competition in the labor market was also a driving factor.

Bin Yan, 27, another author, said he had also noticed an increased interest in reading among young Cambodians.

“This is the driving force which I think is hopeful for the country, because a nation is strong if the people like to read, like in Japan, Germany, Israel and the United States.”

Students take part in the 7th Cambodia Book Fair at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)
Students take part in the 7th Cambodia Book Fair at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)

He added that social media was also spurring increased interest in reading.

Bonheang said intellectual property laws remained a barrier to more Cambodians getting into publishing.

“What I think is lacking for writers is legal protection,” he said. “The intellectual property law is still limited and full of loopholes.”

“I think that if the law could be strengthened, it would be a good thing.”

Participants take part in the 7th Cambodia Book Fair at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)
Participants take part in the 7th Cambodia Book Fair at the National Library in Phnom Penh, December 07th, 2018. (VOA Khmer)

Yan, a member of the Kouy indigenous minority, said writers should be encouraged to create more original works, rather than relying on translating and copying local and international literature.

He added that he hoped the government would establish a nationwide library program and book fairs in the provinces, as well as increasing funding support for young, emerging writers.

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