Monsoon. Nov. 2023. 336p. ISBN 9781915310125. pap. $16.95. F
DEBUTScreenwriter Masters’s 1936-set novel features filmmaker Charlie Chaplin and his wife Paulette Goddard, who are touring French Indochina after the successful release of their silent film Modern Times. When Charlie and Paulette arrive in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian people welcome the beloved comedian with open arms, but the French authorities fear that screening Modern Times will cause unrest. As the couple are feted by royalty and dignitaries, Charlie strikes up a friendship with a local comedic actor who has ties to the Free Khmer movement. Struggling with the new “talkies” and hoping to make an impact, Charlie is inspired to write a film starring his famous character, the Tramp, set in Phnom Penh and highlighting the harsh working conditions of the nearby rubber plantations. When he is given the chance to lend his name to the anti-colonial cause in Cambodia, he must decide if he is willing to risk his livelihood and his marriage to help his new friend.
VERDICT An intriguing thought experiment that imagines the lasting impact of Chaplin’s real-life visit to Cambodia. Readers looking for deep biographical details should look elsewhere, but those who are interested in the 1930s and world history might appreciate.
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