Now that we are back in lockdown and travel denied us once again, my thoughts turn to the far off places I’ve had the chance to visit in the past. One of the countries I loved was Cambodia where, in spite of its quite recent history, I found the people to be utterly charming. When I realised that Gabrielle Yetter’s book Whisper of the Lotus could transport me back to Cambodia and its people I simply had to ask Gabrielle to write a guest post for Linda’s Book Bag.
Whisper of the Lotus was published on 22nd October 2020 and is available for purchase here.
Whisper of the Lotus
A buzz sounded from inside Charlotte’s handbag, so she stopped and fumbled for the mobile phone she’d switched on after landing. Surely nobody would be contacting her here.
Her fingers curled around it and she flipped open the case and checked the message: Welcome to Cambodia, Charlotte. You have 57 days
Sometimes you have to go a long way from home to come full circle back to discover what was right in front of you..
Charlotte’s mundane, dead-end life lacked excitement. She never imagined that sitting on a plane to Cambodia, struggling with her fear of flying, would lead to her being befriended by Rashid, an old man whose tragic secret would take her on a mystery tour of discovery.
In a land of golden temples, orange-clad monks, and smiling people, Charlotte discovers nothing is as she’d expected. She also never imagined the journey would take her back to the night when her father walked out on the family.
And who was Rashid? Was he just a kindly old man, or was there something deeper sewn into the exquisite fabric of his life?
From the author of The Definitive Guide to Living in Southeast Asia: Cambodia and Just Go! Leave the Treadmill for a World of Adventure, Whisper of the Lotus is a multi-layered story about friendship and family, love and identity, set in an exotic, magical country in Southeast Asia.
Deeper Than Words
A Guest Post by Gabrielle Yetter
The first time we met SomOn was in June of 2010. My husband, Skip, and I had just flown across the world to begin new lives in Cambodia, and SomOn’s face was the first we saw. He stood at the airport gate, clutching a board displaying our names, ushered us into his bright orange tuk-tuk, and drove us to the simple guesthouse that would be our first port of call.
Ten years later, when I published Whisper of the Lotus, SomOn was one of my central characters. His sunny personality and childlike spirit embodied so many of the people we met during our four years in Cambodia and it was only fitting he’d be part of the book.
The story is about the journey of a young woman named Charlotte who goes to Cambodia to visit her best friend and escape from personal challenges back home. On the way, she meets a mysterious old man who changes the direction of her life, causing her to question everything she’d ever believed in. And, when she arrives in Phnom Penh, guess who drove the tuk-tuk that came to meet her?
When Skip and I settled into Cambodia, SomOn’s role became as significant in our lives as it was in Charlotte’s fictional world. A sole breadwinner and father of two beautiful children, SomOn always had a smile on his face and a moment for anyone in need. Once, when visiting a local zoo, we noticed a blind beggar playing a flute nearby. SomOn leapt up, reached into his pocket, and handed him a bundle of notes. Another time, he swerved in the middle of the street, backed up the tuk-tuk and handed money to a widow who was squatting on the corner of the road. This, from a man who made nine dollars on a good day. He would return our cash if we mistakenly overpaid him, invite us to his one-room home for dinner, bring us “happy new year” gifts, and unfailingly show up at our front door every day for almost three years to drive us to work.
In Whisper of the Lotus, he’s Charlotte’s guide and watchdog. He’s also the embodiment of typical Cambodian quirkiness. He speeds through Phnom Penh, “dodging cars and SUVs like an ant between elephants”, insists Charlotte visits the horrifying Tuol Sleng genocide museum on her first day, and tells her “not to worry” when the tuk-tuk becomes trapped in gridlocked traffic on the way to the airport.
Charlotte gasped as they narrowly missed a dog, then groaned out loud when they were forced to stop at another traffic light. Cars, buses, and bikes streamed across the road in front of them, jamming the passageway. The light turned green. Nothing moved.
She leaned forward again. ‘SomOn, how much farther to the airport?’ Her palms were sweaty. This wasn’t looking good.
‘Not long. You fine.’
Aware of the Cambodian tendency for understatement, she looked at her watch. ‘I don’t think we’re fine at all,’ she said. She scanned the street for any sign of traffic movement and saw none. They were stuck.
Since Skip and I left Cambodia five years ago, SomOn has kept in touch through Facebook. He updates me in broken English about his new venture into the guesthouse business, tells me about the challenges of the recent flooding, and sends photos of his family and their activities. So, when I sent him a note telling him I’d written a book and that he was in it, his reply was “Ohh really I’m very happy to hear that,” with two smiley-face emojis.
The following day, his Facebook profile photo had changed. It now showed a smiling SomOn holding a copy of Whisper of the Lotus in front of the Phnom Penh riverside. And even though we may not speak the same language, I know our communication goes deeper than words.
That’s just wonderful Gabrielle, thank you. Finding out about SomOn brings back many happy memories for me, such as racing through the streets of Phnom Penh in a rickshaw being driven by a manic, laughing one eyed driver who couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group, as well as the more sobering ones of visiting the genocide museum and the Killing Fields. Hearing about SomOn has made me desperate to read Whisper of the Lotus too.
About Gabrielle Yetter
Gabrielle Yetter has lived in India, Bahrain, South Africa, Cambodia, England and the USA. She worked as a journalist in South Africa, owned a dining guide in San Diego, wrote a cookbook about traditional Cambodian desserts and freelanced for publications and online sites in the US, The Netherlands, South Africa, and Southeast Asia.
In 2010, she and her husband, Skip, sold their home in the US, quit their jobs, gave away most of their possessions, and bought a one-way ticket to Cambodia.
In June 2015, she co-authored Just Go! Leave the Treadmill for a World of Adventure, with Skip. In May 2016, she published her first children’s picture book, Ogden, The Fish Who Couldn’t Swim Straight followed by Martha The Blue Sheep in 2017.
She lives in Eastbourne, England and her first novel, Whisper of the Lotus, was released in November 2020.