In Laos, where books are a rare commodity, one mystery writer puts the nation in print – and helps put books in the nation.
Courtesy of Jessica Cotterill/Soho Press
Mr. Cotterill’s relationship to the wise septuagenarian coroner/medium/sleuth resembles that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Sherlock Holmes. Together, author and protagonist make for a memorable team in unraveling the murder mysteries that haunt their land.
Except in Cotterill’s case, the land is Laos. A small communist holdout between Thailand and Vietnam, it’s a country where books are curiosities: Homegrown literature is almost nonexistent in Laos, and publishing is mostly limited to textbooks.
But now the London-born author is putting Laos on the literary map as a backdrop for his mystery novels featuring an all-Lao cast of characters. He’s also lending a hand in a campaign to distribute children’s books to Lao kids.
“The idea of reading for pleasure is missing in Laos,” says Cotterill, a longtime teacher and child-protection advocate in Southeast Asia and Africa who now lives in Thailand. “Few people even own books.”
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