The Embassy of Cambodia

Book Reviews / Thursday, December 12th, 2013

This is a short story that Zadie Smith wrote and had published in The New Yorker. This is the short story more elaborated but it is being marketed as a small book. Actually it’s a short story or novella. I’m not so sure I agree with that, but it’s a good thing that as readers we are given a choice on whether we want to pick up the book (which is cute) or get the electronic version.  Nevertheless I enjoyed it and wished it was longer.

17565927The Embassy of Cambodia is the story of Fatou a live-in maid and baby-sitter that is working for a wealthy Arab family living in Willesden, which is a borough of Brent in North West London.  They have taken her passport so she isn’t really free.  Every afternoon Fatou steals free passes from a drawer in the hallway (which no one notices) to go to the Olympic sized swimming pool in town, where she passes the Cambodian Embassy.  There she swims laps and observes the people around her. The book is only 69 pages and composed of 21 chapters, which are labeled 0-1, 0-2, etc.  Each chapter is a look into Fatou’s life and a critique of society. Smith’s writing is minimalist but brilliant. She manages to tell this story with very few words and the meaning somehow shines through.  That’s the genius of Smith’s writing.  Smith touches on many themes such as religion, relationships between men and women, the plight of modern-day slaves, social class, illegal immigrants, etc.  I’m thrilled to have picked this one up but as it was so short I was left wanting to know more about Fatou.  Henceforth the problem I have with reading short stories. I recommend this one to lovers of Zadie Smith.  For those who haven’t had the pleasure of the Smith experience, I suggest On Beauty since it is a story with a more typical story line, although I don’t think it’s one of her best works. As a whole, On Beauty is more accessible. The Embassy of Cambodia can be acquired gratuitously on the internet.  I decided to pick it up because Zadie Smith is becoming one of my favourite authors and I wanted the physical book.  So what about you?  Are you a fan of Zadie Smith?  If so what have you read from her that you liked?  I’m due to read NW, hopefully before the end of the year.

8 Replies to “The Embassy of Cambodia”

  1. I have only read On Beauty which left me rather cold, she’s one of those writers I consciously avoid now. Maybe The Embassy of Cambodia would be a better choice for me as it’s short.

    1. You should read White Teeth. It’s really brilliant! I’m anxious to get started on NW. This one was just too short. Would be great if she wrote a full length novel with Fatou as the main character.

  2. I had the opportunity to read one of het novel, it was white teeth I guess, I didn’t like the starting and gave up. She reminds me of Aminatta Forna, I guess they are quite different, perhaps slightly similar.l

  3. Thanks for the review. This book was on my TBR list. I’ve read and for the most part enjoyed two of her novels (On Beauty and White Teeth) and one she edited (The Book of Other People). Admittedly, I have to adjust my mindset and dedicate myself to reading her work. She’s an excellent writer who examines a myriad of issues — but I find her work is largely character-driven and at times moves very slowly — so I have to force myself to push through some passages.

  4. Ive read both White Teeth and On Beauty – both were well written but I couldn’t see why everyone was raving about them. So I thought I would give her another go and bought NW. it’s still sitting on my shelf after six months. I’ll go in search of the Embassy story now I’ve read your review

    1. Loved White Teeth! Didn’t like On Beauty so much, however I love the way she writes. I think White Teeth was raved about so much because of the writing style, the way the story was constructed, and most of all because she was only 22 years old. I hope she turns this one into a full length novel but I’m not so sure that’s going to happen. Don’t buy it. You can apparently get it for free as an ebook. Let me know what you think when you read it. I haven’t picked up NW yet either. Will definitely do so in 2014.

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