A Woman of Angkor

Written by John Burgess
Review by Viviane Crystal

Sray is the “Woman of Angkor.” It’s a simple name for a simply named novel about the momentous historical events in remote Angkor in the 12th century. Sray is a Khmer citizen in what the reader now knows as Cambodia under the reign of Suryavarman II.

A devout Hindu follower, Sray and her husband, Nol, share a shameful secret which, if known in the wrong places, could result in their deaths. It haunts them for years, but both react in very different ways; Sray prays to “Bronze Uncle,” at first meeting only silence but later sensing his approval and protection. Nol believes the horror is behind him, especially as he has the good fortune to be restored to the king’s service as the “Parasol Master,” an artistic job that earns him great esteem in the life of the average poor Khmer people.

But Sray never forgets, and her deep religiosity, borne out of guilt, becomes real as she immerses herself in Scriptures and practices heartfelt charity toward those less fortunate. Nol says the right things at the right time and becomes a senior advisor to King Suryavaraman, a character depicted as a traitor who plots and plans for his own political glory. All begins to unravel when the king sets his sights on Sray, who flees the city to live in a Hindu temple that she will have redesigned and restored. Nol must gradually see that ascendancy comes with compromising consequences that assure that justice will come full circle. These powerful personalities remember what brought them so far and has blessed their lives beyond their simple comprehension.

A Woman of Angkor is superb historical fiction that is delightful to read, a phenomenal tale of ancient Angkor told skillfully and with great imagination.