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When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge Paperback – April 17, 2001
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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"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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This is a very human and moving book. It certainly brought tears to my eyes.
I wouldn't recommend racing through it in a day. I took my time, and stopped a few times, simply to reflect and ponder on the awfulness of Man's cruelty to Man.
We know the story line: revolution, war, and a foolish and thuggish regime turn an entire country backwards into some kind of experimental Agrarian Utopia. The worth of the individual is squashed.
Liberty is suppressed. Eradicated. Even basic rights are ruthlessly exterminated. We brace ourselves for more and more horrors as the story is told.
And yet. And yet. Mixed amongst the starving, the beatings, the random executions, the arrogance of the Elite, the blindness of the self appointed leaders, there is always that fragile flower of gentleness. Of beauty. Of human compassion, despite terrible risks.
Some of the many passages that I found haunting in their emotional intensity, were the ones where a little girl, nine years old, alone, weeps for her father.
"Never before have I felt so much pain inside my body. My chest. My eyes. My throat. My grief encompasses every cell, touches every limb, every organ. For Pa has never left me for more than a day. Never. Now he's gone,and I have the deepest intuition that something is wrong."
And again, later.
"During the day, I return to the orchard.I cry alone, calling out to Pa. Like the earth without the sun, I'm drifting in the dark, thinking of him, wondering where he is, what he's doing. Whether he misses us, misses me."
Her father of course, was crudely executed. For being educated. A threat...
The death of her little brother, age three, alone...
The death of her mother...
I ask the question if this book is relevant to the USA today? One could make the argument that it is unlikely that some regime will force march city inhabitants out into the country side to grow crops. Maybe. But I submit that the pre-cursors to such terror are unrestrained power and intellectual arrogance of a relatively small clique, unshakably convinced of its own superiority, wisdom and insight, and deaf to differing life styles and views. Is such intolerance and a trend towards reduced individual liberty present in America today?
I leave that question to you, the reader to contemplate.
Interestingly, I read this book just after having read "Anthem" by Ayn Rand.
There is an echo there. An uncomfortable one.
I would love it if Chanrithy Him would write a sequel.
Detailing her transition into life in America? Contrasted with her early cultural values?
It is not a complete picture, and does not give political background. For that information read an additional book.
I have to say however that the book ended with a whimper. After 200 pages of nail-biting drama, a sentence is thrown in that goes something like
"so one day we're working in the fields and we noticed that all the Khmer Rouge left. We were free. The end."
The author is not claiming to be the next Robert Ludlum. This is a first-hand retelling of a survivor's tale. So I won't hold the weak ending against her. (OK maybe one star).
all-in-all it is a it was a powerful book, and I have grown by reading it.
This book just reiterated how terrible things can become so quickly in a whole country.
This reminded me of what really happened in the Khmer Rouge not so long ago! I thought it was a great story of love, loss hardship along with survival. This is a book that everyone should read and remember!