Combining non-fiction and fiction in a startling way, Peter Fröberg Idling takes his readers on a frightening and fascinating journey into the heart of the Democratic Kampuchea of the Khmer Rouge, and into the mind of one of history’s most feared mass murderers, Pol Pot.
While working in Cambodia, the author comes across a book written by four Swedish leftist intellectuals. It is a travel journal from the late ’70s, detailing their journey amidst the genocide conducted in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, in which some 2 million people perished. They return home from their trip full of praise for the success and justness of the Khmer revolution, and the happiness of the country’s inhabitants. How, Peter asks, was it possible for them to see and yet not see what was going on? This question drives the narrative, as the author follows in the footsteps of these public intellectuals, tracing their journey through the country. Essentially, the book probes into questions of ideological deception and a society’s blind spots, but is also a fascinating, intimate portrait of life under the Khmer Rouge.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Pol Pot’s Smile has been called “groundbreaking journalism”. Certainly, its fearless way of exploring open-ended questions offers an intriguing approach to the challenge of making history come alive on the page. Fröberg Idling’s prose is dynamic: at times suggestive and lyrical, at times documentary, at times mocking of the choppy style of the Khmer’s “new language”.
Pol Pot’s Smile is an innovative work of nonfiction that was showered in praise for its literary qualities, as well as its subtle discussion of morally and politically complex issues, particularly that of self deception. As a ‘documentary thriller’, it tells the story of how four radicals, members of the European intellectual elite, could travel through Cambodia as the country was living through an unprecedented genocide, and report back on the successes of the Communist takeover in the name of ideology.
The book sold around 30,000 copies in Sweden. It was shortlisted for Dagens Nyheter’s Culture Prize and, in Poland, The Kapuscinski Prize and, in Switzerland, The Jan Michalski Prize for Literature.