When starvation threatened, the family ate anything. "Rats,
turtles and snakes caught in our traps are not wasted as we cook
and eat their brains, tails, hides and blood. When no animals
are caught, we roam the fields for grasshoppers, beetles, and
crickets." When two men in black come to take away Loung’s
father Ung for execution, (having discovered that he had worked
for the earlier government in Phnom Penh), all he says to his
daughter before leaving is, "My beautiful girl, I have to
go away with these two men for a while". Somewhere outside
the village, they smash his head in with a heavy hammer. Loung
recalls her father’s last moments, "Pa prays silently for
the gods to take care of us. He focuses his mind on us, bringing
up our faces one by one. He wants our faces to be the last
things he sees as he leaves the earth". And as a child
soldier in a camp for orphaned girls, she is compelled to shout
slogans for the army that has killed her family members, "Angkar!
Angkar! Angkar!" and agree with Met Bong, the camp
supervisor that, "Angkar is all powerful! Angkar is the
saviour and liberator of the Khmer people". These vivid
images are alive in my memory even now as I put down this
chilling autobiography, having read it almost at one go. There
is no sugar-coating in this (now grown up) lady’s harrowing
account that tells the story of human suffering and unparalleled
resilience which triumphs over evil in the end. The realism is
stark, as also is the hatred Loung feels for the Khmer:
"Rising above the surface again, I feel the weeks’ mud
dissolve and slide off my skin, my nails, the creases in my neck
and toes. The water washes away the dirt, but it will never put
out the fire of my hate for the Khmer Rouge".
narrates how Loung (after having moved to the United States,
leaving half her family members behind in native Cambodia), one
day returns to a family reunion in her ancestral home. In
dressing up in loose-fitting black trousers, she makes a
terrible mistake. Her trousers remind her family of the Khmer
Rouge who dressed in black. "My family and I reacted
awkwardly to each other and they kept their many warm arms at
their sides." Loung is now settled in America, but the
bloody killing fields of Cambodia still haunt her mind.
start killing each other because of ideological differences (the
Khmer versus the monarchy or a dictatorship), it is always the
middle class (like Loung Ung’s family) that suffers the most.
Books like this one help preserve civilisation and sanity.
Take my word and
buy this book. It is a bestseller all the way.