This study guide will help you analyze the novella The Embassy of Cambodia (2013) by Zadie Smith. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.
Here, you can read an extract from our study guide:
The novella explores the theme of otherness. This is explored through Fatou’s journey as an African immigrant who moves to different countries in search of a better workplace and a better life. The novella explores the ways Fatou appears as an outsider in different scenarios.
At the pool, Fatou notes that the other people tend to be very different from her: “she is often the youngest person in the pool by several decades. Generally, the clientele are white, or else South Asian or from the Middle East”. This description shows that Fatou does not appear to belong in this place, which is later shown to be because she secretly uses her employers’ guest passes to the health center as she cannot afford a membership.
While thinking back to the time she worked in Ghana, Fatou notes the differences between her and the tourists who came to the resort she worked at: “no employees were allowed in the pool. No, she learned by struggling through the rough gray sea, on the other side of the resort walls. […] No tourist ever stepped on the beach (it was covered with trash)”. In this example, the otherness is also illustrated through showing the different spaces the tourists and Fatou occupy: the hotel pool and the dirty beach, respectively.
This is also similar to the way Fatou is an outsider to the world of the Cambodian Embassy, and the people inside appear to occupy a different space than her. This is shown by the tall wall that surrounds the Cambodian Embassy so no one can see inside. The only glimpse of the world inside the embassy is the shuttlecock that can be seen flying over the fence.