An advertisement appeared in a recent issue in The Cambodia Daily says copies of the first book of Harry Potter (in large size and capital letter says MAGIC!) in Khmer language is priced at $2.50 (about ten thousand in Khmer Riel). Khmer version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone are available at Monument Bookstore.

A few years back I grabbed a copy of the book from a bookshop on Monyvong Boulevard for my younger sister, who found it good read; she still asks me for the second book. The recent advertisement attracted my attention since I thought the second and third books may have just been translated, but then I realized that it’s yet the same one. This time, though, it’s the advertisement run by Phnom Penh’s largest bookstore Monument.

Sokunpanha You, a Cambodian fan of British author J. K. Rowling, told the BBC that:

I grew up in a country where English wasn’t even the second language. The world of Harry Potter was introduced to me rather late when I was in high school. From the first page, I haven’t really grown too old for what are otherwise supposed to be children’s books.

For me, Harry Potter was the starting point of not just a hobby, but a passion. By the time I read the first Potter book, I’d already been an avid reader, but I did most of the reading in my native Khmer language.

Harry Potter books were what got me into reading in English. I have since then ventured to enjoy both classic and contemporary English literature such as the work of Dickens, Austen, the Bronte sisters, Hugo and many more.

I can now hardly go through a day without doing some reading. And all this started by a bespectacled boy living in a broom shed under the stairs.

The Harry Potter series of fantasy novels have been translated from English into more than 50 languages. The availability of the Khmer language version of the children’s favorite book is credited to The Cambodia Daily publisher Bernard Krisher, who wrote the British author.

In a recent Phnom Penh Post news article, reporter Eleanor Ainge Roy discussed an issue of readership (Young literati delve into the foreign classics) in Cambodia, a country where young people like listening to radio and watching television than reading books.

“For Cambodia’s literature lovers, reading Western classics like Oliver Twist or Les Miserables in the original language is a labour of love…”

I’ve been wondering what could be an important factor to improve readership in the country. I understand that increasing literacy is a significant step to take. However, as pointed out in the article, young people don’t find reading for pleasure, but what they have to.

Some questions came to my mind at the time of writing this:

  • Is it because Cambodian literature has too little to offer?
  • Or new generation has not born yet to produce some great work that catch up with a large segment of the Cambodian market?
  • Is the market of readership too small for writers and publishers to take it aggressively?
  • How can we produce quality print books cheaper (print a large amount of copies)?
  • Is it true that non-Khmer language speakers couldn’t find Cambodian literature in English much to read?
  • Can both the Internet and technology help writers to get their works sold out?`
  • How can we see the comeback of rich and great Cambodian litature in this generation?