Keys to chaos

Quinn Libson


Le Royal, Phnom Penh. Photo: WikiCommons

Havre de Guerre: Phnom Penh, Cambodge (1970-1975)
Jean-François Bouvet
Fayard: 2018
Have you ever lost yourself in time? Maybe it’s when the palm of your hand meets the cool surface of an old stucco building, or when the light hits a facade at just the right moment at sunset that triggers it, and allows you, for an instant, to imagine yourself immersed in the world of the people who stood on exactly the spot where you’re standing, but decades before.

For Jean-François Bouvet, the author of Havre de Guerre — a new French-language book on the experiences of the foreign correspondents who covered Cambodia from 1970 to 1975 — that moment of chronological dislocation came as he stood in front of a room key and a press pass on display at what is now the Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh.

Both the items that transfixed Bouvet had once belonged to Elizabeth Becker, a journalist who cut her teeth reporting from Cambodia, most notably for the Washington Post, as it was being torn apart by war. During those tumultuous years, she, and dozens of other correspondents, called the hotel home.

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