Troubling the Water


Troubling the Water

A Dying Lake and a Vanishing World in Cambodia

Abby Seiff

162 pages
11 photographs, 1 map, index


March 2022


$21.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

March 2022


$21.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

March 2022


$21.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

In this intimate account of one of the world’s most productive inland fisheries, Troubling the Water explores how the rapid destruction of a single lake in Cambodia is upending the lives of millions. The abundance of Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake helped grow the country for millenia and gave rise to the Kingdom of Angkor. Fed by the rich, mud-colored waters of the powerful Mekong River, the lake owes its vast bounty to an ecological miracle that has captivated poets, artisans, and explorers throughout history.
But today, the lake is dying. Hydropower dams hold back billions of gallons of water and disrupt critical fish migration paths. On the lake, illegal fishing abetted by corruption is now unstoppable. A fast-changing climate, meanwhile, has seen a string of devastating droughts.

Troubling the Water follows ordinary Cambodians coping with the rapid erasure of a long-held way of life. Drawing on years of reporting in Cambodia, Abby Seiff traces the changes on the Tonle Sap—weaving together vivid stories of those most affected with sharp insight into one of the most threatened lakes in the world. For the millions who depend on it, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Author Bio

Abby Seiff is a journalist who was based in Southeast Asia for nearly a decade, working as an editor at the Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post and writing for publications such as Time, the Economist, Al Jazeera, and Pacific Standard, among others. She is now a freelance correspondent.


"A timely and important account."—Ming Li Yong, Contemporary Southeast Asia

“A haunting and lyrical eulogy to Cambodia’s once magnificent Tonle Sap Lake and the water culture of Cambodia.”—Elizabeth Becker, author of You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War

“Groundbreaking. . . . The author exposes the human costs of [the Tonle Sap’s degradation] with empathy and a deep understanding of the issues involved.”—Milton Osborne, author of The Mekong: Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future

“The destruction of human life can occur slowly, indirectly, and even imperceptibly, which makes it no less of a crime. . . . This book reminds us of how much our humanity is connected to our environment.”—Youk Chhang, founder and executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia

“In Abby Seiff’s rendition, the Tonle Sap Lake sometimes appears nymphlike, alluring and magical, like the celestial bodies carved on the walls of Cambodian temples at the lake’s edges. It appears human at other times, meshed into the lives of those who live around it, off of it. Seiff’s Troubling the Water is a beautiful and powerful ode to an ancient but rapidly disappearing world of interdependence between people and nature. A gifted writer and sensitive observer, she re-creates a world readers will want to save. A must-read.”—Saumya Roy, author of Castaway Mountain: Love and Loss among the Wastepickers of Mumbai

“Abby Seiff has courageously covered Cambodia’s troubling trajectory in the twenty-first century. This book is her testament to the life and death of the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, one of the most productive inland fisheries in the world, a people and way of life quickly disappearing.”—Sophal Ear, author Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy

“A powerful book that perfectly captures the vulnerabilities of one of the world’s most important lakes, Cambodia’s Tonle Sap, by documenting the fragility of life for the millions who subsist on its floodplain. Seiff’s painstaking research, coupled with her years of reporting from Cambodia, gives voice to the marginalized and the unheard. Troubling the Water is a unique, lyrical, and immensely readable account of the impact posed by the building of dams on the Mekong and of the profound risks that the lake’s demise holds for a nation. Highly recommended.”—Robert Carmichael, author of When the Clouds Fell from the Sky: A Disappearance, a Daughter’s Search, and Cambodia’s First War Criminal

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
A Note on Translations 
1. The Tiger Depends on the Forest
2. Where There Is Water, There Are Fish
3. Don’t Let a Hungry Man Guard Rice
4. Navigate a River by Following Its Bends
5. When the Water Recedes, the Ant Eats the Fish
6. Do Not Rely on the God of Mercy
7. Spare Yourself One Hundred Days of Tears
8. Frogs Get Lost in Lakes
9. The Gourd Sinks, Broken Glass Floats 

Also of Interest