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When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge Kindle Edition

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Length: 340 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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Amazon.com Review

"Chea, how come good doesn't win over evil?" young Chanrithy Him asks her sister, after the brutal Khmer Rouge have seized power in Cambodia, but before hunger makes them too weak for philosophy. Chea answers only with a proverb: When good and evil are thrown together into the river of life, first the klok or squash (representing good) will sink, and the armbaeg or broken glass (representing evil) will float. But the broken glass, Chea assures her, never floats for long: "When good appears to lose, it is an opportunity for one to be patient, and become like God."

Before this proverb could come true, Chanrithy had to watch her mother, father, and five of her brothers and sisters die, murdered by the Khmer Rouge or fatally weakened by malnutrition, disease, and overwork. Now living in Oregon, where she studies posttraumatic stress disorder among Cambodian survivors, Chanrithy has written a first-person account of the killing fields that's remarkable for both its unflinching honesty and its refusal to despair. In wrenchingly immediate prose, she describes atrocities the rest of the world might prefer to ignore: her sick yet still breathing mother, thrown along with corpses into a well; a pregnant woman beaten to death with a spade, the baby struggling inside her; a sister impossibly swollen with edema, her starving body leaking fluid from the webbing between her toes.

The mind retreats from horrors like these--and yet what emerges most strongly from this memoir is the triumph of life. Chanrithy is determined to honor her pledge to the dying Chea, to study medicine so she can help others live. When Broken Glass Floats accomplishes the same goal in a different way. "As a survivor, I want to be worthy of the suffering that I endured," Chanrithy writes; by giving such eloquent voice to her dead, she has proven herself more than worthy of her suffering--and theirs. --Chloe Byrne

From Publishers Weekly

Born in Cambodia in 1965, Him lived from the age of three with the fear of war overflowing from neighboring Vietnam and suffered through the U.S.'s bombing of her native land. However, thanks to her loving and open-minded family, her outlook remained positive--until 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized control and turned her world upside down. (According to a Cambodian proverb, "broken glass floats" when the world is unbalanced.) Armed with a nearly photographic memory, Him forcefully expresses the utter horror of life under the revolutionary regime. Evacuated from Phnom Penh and and shunted from villages to labor camps, her close-knit family of 12 was decimated: both parents were murdered, and five of her siblings starved or died from treatable illnesses. Meanwhile, the culture of local communities was destroyed and replaced with the simple desire to survive famine. Yet for all their suffering throughout these years, the surviving Hims remained loyal to one another, saving any extra food they collected and making dangerous trips to other camps to share it with weaker family members. Friendships were also formed at great risk, and small favors were exchanged. But by the end of the book, Him finds herself surprised when she encounters remnants of humanity in people, for she has learned to live by mistrusting, by relying on her own wits and strength. When the Khmer Rouge were overthrown, Him moved to a refugee camp in Thailand. Today she works with the Khmer Adolescent Project in Oregon. This beautifully told story is an important addition to the literature of this period. (Apr.) FYI: In the January 17 issue, PW reviewed another memoir of growing up under the Khmer Rouge, First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 922 KB
  • Print Length: 340 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 17, 2001)
  • Publication Date: April 17, 2001
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002GKGBLY
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,031 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 84 people found the following review helpful By M. Desoer VINE VOICE on June 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book immediately after I finished "First They Killed My Father." Both are autobiographies by young women who were children at the time of the Khmer Rouge's rule of Cambodia. Rather than being redundant, I found that this book complemented the other.
Both girls were daughters of relatively privileged families who were part of the forced evacuation of Phnom Phen. The author of this one, Ms. Him, was a few years older, and this slight age difference provides some different perspective. In addition, Ms. Him's family evacuated in a different geographical direction, which also affected her family's displacement over those years. The author shows how, as a child, she demonstrated incredible determination and courage in the face of the most horrendous conditions imaginable -- she even escapes one work camp as she was near death from dysentary.
This book provides another necessary and compelling autobiography of a horrible time in history.
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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Daniel B. Dickason on April 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In a strange twist, I knew the author as a student, and later a collegue doing research on the Khmer Rouge era. I heard parts of the story from her, but was overwhelmed by the prose as she told it. I have heard the stories of many Cambodians, but because of this book I felt I could actually see what was happening. Her family and friends came alive for me on the pages of this remarkable narrative. It is a triumphant tribute to her departed relatives. I wish her the best and hope she will continue writing.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By James C. Comparato on March 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Through my readings of books dealing with the barbarism of the human soul I have gained a profound appreciation for the subtleties of life. This work brings that understanding another giant leap forward.
The plight of Chanrithy Him through the relentless suffering of the Khmer Rouge is no less than heart sickening. You will discover a profound sense of respect for her and the victims and survivors of the infamous Pol Pot regime.
This book has a similar approach to another - "First They Killed My Father" - by Loung Ung. Both books command you to continue reading. I could not put them down.
All in all, a superb work on a less than superb topic - required reading for anyone interested in Asian culture, human suffering, and in a surprising way - human survival.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Richard Arant on April 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Told in an unusually vivid style, "When Broken Glass Floats" provides a striking new perspective even to those readers already hardened from study of events in Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime. The scenes of the evacuation of Phnom Penh, family separation, slow starvation, and the deaths of members of the author's immediate family materialize as if on film.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By "brown797" on April 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book made me angry. But then again, these books always get me emotional. Maybe it's because I'm Irish or maybe its an inseparable sense of justice born into my veins. Bad things happen for the most meaningless or stupidheaded! reasons. In the wind of total disregard for life, life stands to face it with unfathomable stubborness to survive, and family becomes the only importance. Well, I have yet to discuss this memoir with my peers, and yes I do feel I need to come to grips with certain grim human themes Chanrithy Him has written about, sometimes in poetic form. In short, this book has potential to become the next hot topic for your friends when it comes to discussing larger questions about humanity's dark side.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Susan D'Aloia on September 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
When Broken Glass Floats is the true story of the tragic demise of a Cambodian family told through the eyes of an adolescent girl coming to age under the infamous Khmer Rouge regime. Immediately I was drawn into Chanrithy Him's ability to create a brief version of normalcy before the Khmer Rouge took over. How quickly the reader is transported from the stable love of a family into a place one could call hell. This is a story of a girl who's day to day struggle is to stay alive. And yet imbedded in the everyday battery that Chan writes about, are full fledged stories about discovering the sweet taste of grass, learning how to catch fish while simultaneously outsmarting slave drivers, and befriending a girl who's courage makes way for an escape. Chan endures illness and watches members of her family murdered, worked and starved to death. The narrator is both a heroine and a girl with wisdom that becomes a cornerstone in her survival. Chanrithy Him is a very fine writer. Her ability to conclude this book of unthinkable brutality with chronicles of a family run-post-war waffle stand, a personal yearning to learn English and a new found passion to live, demonstrate enormous grace we can all learn from.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Chanrithy made a great effort of making the readers understand the sufferings of living under the rule of Khmer Rouge. I felt the pain, fear, and hunger that she and all Cambodians went through in such a short period of time. I admire her determination to survive.
The shortcoming of the book is that Chanrithy seemed to leave out certain stories untold, making the readers wonder what had happened. For example, her sister, Ra, was married to a total stranger when the Khmer Rouge stressed the need to increase the population. It was unclear to me how Ra ever got rid of the husband as he was never mentioned again in the book.
Overall, this is a good book which provides insights to the darkness of humanity.
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