Sunday, 9 April 2017

Daughter Of The Killing Fields by Theary Seng

Daughter of the Killing Fields: Asrei's Story by Theary C. Seng
Published by Fusion Press in September 2005.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
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How I got this book:
Found on the book exchange shelves at Camping Casteillets

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Theary Seng was a toddler when they killed her father. In prison shortly after, she fell asleep in her mother's arms and woke to find her gone. "Daughter of the Killing Fields" tells how Seng spent her early years being passed from one set of relatives to another, amid a backdrop of soldiers, landmines, inadequate refugee camps and always death. 'Life', she found, 'is just a breath'. Often separated and fearing each other dead for months at a time, she tells the nail-biting story of how she, her aunts and uncles survived. Leaving Cambodia aged six to start a new life in the West, this powerful memoir begins and ends 23 years later as she finds a way to confront the man she holds 'accountable for the death of my parents, for the blood of 1.7 million others'.

Knowing little about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia other than what I had learned from The Killing Fields film which I watched years ago, I thought it would be interesting to read an account by someone who actually lived through the regime's rule. Dave attempted to read this book before me and gave up fairly early on because he couldn't get on with the writing style and I also found it difficult to identify all the different people about whom Seng writes. There is a family tree diagram and glossary of Cambodian honorifics at the front of the book, but names seem change depending on the speaker which is tricky for my Western mind to grasp.

Seng was only four years old when the Khmer Rouge came to power so this book includes her own memories as well as information gleaned from interviews with surviving family members and other Cambodians. Their stories are horrific especially considering that these events were just forty years ago. I wasn't reading about ancient barbarity, but recent history and this is particularly shocking to consider. Seng writes about how her father was deceived into walking to his death, her time in prison before her mother vanished, and her years of rural peasantry. What shines through her memoir is the ingenuity and strength of these people, their struggle to survive but also their quiet acceptance of the inevitability of death. Perhaps a professional writer might have created a more accessible book overall, however there was a certain raw power in knowing that the person whose words I read had really experienced these incredible years.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Theary Seng / Biography and memoir / Books from Cambodia

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