BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Three Flames by Alan Lightman [in Booklist]

Novelist and physicist Alan Lightman (Einstein’s Dreams) has traveled twice yearly since 2003 to Cambodia to work with his Harpswell Foundation which empowers women leaders in Cambodia and Southeast Asia. In his first novel in seven years, Lightman’s opening dedication directly spotlights Harpswell’s “strong and courageous young women,” some of whose stories have inspired his intimate examination of a Cambodian family’s post-Khmer Rouge lives, driven by survival, redeemed by resilience.

Each of six chapters, named for each family member, is paired with a pivotal year. Mother Ryna in 2012 confronts her father’s murderer. In 2009, teenage, pregnant eldest daughter Nita plots to escape her much older husband. Marriage eludes only son Kamal in 2013. In 2008, middle daughter Thida is forced to become a debt equalizer. Father Pich, a young man in 1973, earns rejection from his parents. In 2015, youngest daughter Sreypov refuses a future constrained by the “three flames:” never air family problems, never forget parental sacrifices, always serve the husband.

After four decades of submission, defiance just might break the family’s cycle of desperation and humiliation.

YA/General Interest: This undeniable testimony to the empowering effects of educating girls should resonate especially with aware teens.

Review: “Fiction,” Booklist, September 1, 2019

Readers: Adult

Published: 2019


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