The stories of one Cambodian family are intricately braided together in Alan Lightman’s first work of fiction in seven years. Three Flames portrays the struggles of a Cambodian farming family against the extreme patriarchal attitudes of their society and a cruel and dictatorial father, set in a rural community that is slowly being exposed to the modern world and its values.
[Lightman's] time spent in Cambodia is apparent through the beautiful and unforced descriptions in Three Flames, his first work of fiction in six years ... Lightman illustrates generational family trauma in a way that is succinct (at a slim 208 pages, Three Flames can be read in the better part of a day) yet leaves just the right amount of speculation to the reader. Three Flames is moving and beautifully written—an unforgettable embodiment of the resilience of the human spirit.
Novels with do-gooder intentions make me wary. Literature should be something else. Mind-expanding, maybe. A journey into another world. Something to challenge my assumptions. Or maybe just something to hold at the beach as the waves crash over my toes ... The book’s narrative flow can be confounding at times ... I was tempted to write down a family tree with small descriptions, the way one would with a sprawling Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy work ... The family members are illustrations of Cambodian heartbreak rather than full-fledged characters.
Alan Lightman examines freedom and obligation, heartache and forgiveness, and ultimately imparts a sense of hope ... Sometimes charming and sometimes heartbreaking, Lightman’s novel is an accessible bridge into Cambodian culture for Western readers.