On the Romantic Road Again in French Colonial Cambodia

“The Road of the Strong” – Front cover – ISBN 978-1-934431-16-0.

Groslier glorifies the colonizing power of France, while celebrating a Khmer art of living.

A chance encounter on a French country road in 1922 irrevocably intertwines the fate of Pierre Ternier—a colonial administrator visiting from Cambodia—with successful car manufacturer Roland Gassin and his attractive wife Hélène. The story then moves to the rural Cambodian province of Battambang, where Ternier’s primary duties are constructing and repairing the French Protectorate’s rapidly expanding road network. Through Ternier’s warm hospitality, Hélène is captivated by the rural Khmer lifestyle and the charming villagers. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that Hélène is a woman with a secret. And this secret would soon change their lives forever.

Born in Cambodia in 1887, author George Groslier developed a profound attachment for the country and spent his life protecting and developing its ancient art-forms, having crisscrossed the country and walked deep into the jungle to document its millennium-old monuments. In addition to establishing and running the country’s National Museum and setting up the School of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, the country’s capital, Groslier had written seven non-fiction books and dozens of academic publications by the time his first novel “La Route du plus fort” (“The Road of the Strong”) was published in 1925.

Nearly forty years old at the time, Groslier was in a perfect position to create compelling fiction that reflected reality and accurately portrayed both the French and Cambodians of that era. As Professor Henri Copin—a specialist of French colonial literature with an international reputation—explains “Groslier glorifies the colonizing power of France, while celebrating a Khmer art of living. His protagonist lives his life in devotion to his mission: to the roads that link beings, bring villages into the world, open up economies, and guarantee security and peace.”

Groslier would die weeks before the end of World War II in 1945, while being interrogated by the Japanese during their occupation of Cambodia. During the war, France’s Vichy regime collaborated with Nazi Germany to let its…

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