Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review: Angkat The Cambodian Cinderella

This is the second Cinderella story reviewed in my blog. You can see the first one on Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella in my previous post. As mentioned before, I selected cultures that I do not remember learning about as a child in school.

Angkat: The Cambodian Cinderella written by Jewell Reinhart Coburn
Illustrated by Eddie Flotte

At the beginning of this story there is the Author's Note. This elaborates on the background of the author and illustrator as well as the story in general. This version is the first time that this Cambodian version of Cinderella has been adapted for the English language. The authors reference an essay entitled "Le Conte de Cendrillo Ches Les Cham" by Adhemard Leclere. He was Frenchman who lived in Cambodia. Riem Men, a Cambodian educator was also included in this adaptation. Angkat, pronounced ON-kaht, means child of ashes, which will come into play in the story. Just on the basis of the references the authors used when creating this book, I think this is an accurate depiction of the original Cambodian Cinderella story.

In this version of Cinderella, Angkat's father marries a nearby widow. Her new stepmother also had a daughter and she wanted her daughter, Kantok to be the Number One daughter, the most important family distinction. The stepmother decided whichever daughter caught the biggest fish would be Number One daughter. Angkat caught four big fish but when she fell asleep, Kantok, who had caught none, stole three of Angkat's fish. Angkat awoke to find one fish in her basket, which she released into one of her father's ponds because she knew she was going to be Number Two daughter anyway. Angkat became the family servant and could never complain.

Angkat did her chores without cheer like she used to until one day she walked past the pond where she released her fish. All of a sudden, the fish flew out of the water and Angkat decided he would be her special friend again. She was happy again! She visited her fish everyday. Kantok was intrigued by Angkat's happiness and cooked her fish so she would be sad again. Angkat was destroyed. The Spirit of Virtue visited Angkat and told her to put the fish bones under her mat over night. The next day two gold slippers were there. Then she told her to put one under her mat and one by her window over night. A big black bird took the gold slipper in the window and dropped it in the Crown Prince's hands.

The Crown Prince called for every girl in the village to try on the shoe. The stepmother told Angkat to stay and clean up the rice on the ground but of course, the animals helped her and she was able to get to the palace to try on the shoe. Miraculously, it fit and the Crown Prince declared he had found his bride. They were soon married.

However, this is not the end of the story for Angkat. Her stepmother, father, and Kantok were very jealous and they devised a plan to kill Angkat. Her father wrote to the Prince to allow her to come home because he was "dying." When she got home, she had to make him soup. While she was leaning over the fire, the three of them pushed the cauldron on top of Angkat, killing her instantly. Not wanting the Prince to be without a wife, they offered Kantok to fill her place.

Upon returning home, Angkat's father and stepmother found a red-leafed banana plant at the exact place Angkat was killed. Her father tried to cut it down and bamboo grew instead.

The Prince, still heartbroken, went out to the jungle to hunt. He was drawn in by the bamboo and decided he must have it at his palace. His companions helped him carry it home. The Prince called the Spirit of Virtue to help bring his wife back. And it worked! Angkat was back and became the Queen she was destined to be. Angkat's father, stepmother, and Kantok were forever banned from the land.

The illustrations in this book are by Eddie Flotte. He uses watercolor to paint his illustrations. They are framed on the page like Jounah: A Hmong Cinderella, but in this book, the images spill into the outside frame, inviting the reader into the scene. The colors in this book are very muted and light. The majority of the pictures are in blues, greens, and browns. There are not many bright colors. I think this is a reflection of the culture of the community.

This is another interesting interpretation of the Cinderella story. I was very surprised when Angkat was killed and they didn't live happily ever after right away. This is a good lesson for children though, that not everything comes on the first try (although it's unrealistic for them to believe that they can come back to life through the bamboo). This book is a good introduction to Cambodian culture for children in elementary and middle school.

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