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When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rougeby Chanrithy Him
Synopses & Reviews
In this mesmerizing story, finalist for the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, Chanrithy Him vividly recounts her trek through the hell of the "killing fields." She gives us a child's-eye view of a Cambodia where rudimentary labor camps for both adults and children are the norm and modern technology no longer exists. Death becomes a companion in the camps, along with illness. Yet through the terror, the members of Chanrithy's family remain loyal to one another, and she and her siblings who survive will find redeemed lives in America. 15 b/w photographs.
"Astonishing and heartbreaking....Written in spare, visual prose that makes the world it describes tangible." Katherine A. Powers, Boston Globe
"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....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....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." Publishers Weekly
"There are few books that give a refugee's point of view as clearly and passionately as Him's. Her book is further proof that in any war, from Cambodia to Kosovo to Iraq, it's often the innocent who suffer the most." Time Out New York
"During the three years that the Khmer Rouge tried to create an agrarian utopia in Cambodia, two million people are believed to have died from execution, starvation, and disease. Two million a horrifying number, but so large as to seem almost an abstraction, like the distance to the nearest star. The number gains far greater psychological force with [this] new memoir, whose author, a young girl in the Cambodia of the time, describes the terror and losses she suffered during the Khmer Rouge revolution in wrenchingly particular terms....[Him] tells her stories straightforwardly, vividly, and without any strenuous effort to explicate their importance, allowing the stories themselves to create their own impact." Richard Bernstein, The New York Times
"A worthy and compelling debut by Him....In this graphic memoir, told from a child's perspective, Him vividly recounts her memories of the war....Separated and forced into labor camps, death and illness became constant companions to the Him family of the 12 of them, only 5 survived. Yet, throughout her struggles and losses, Him's enduring hope, strength, and family loyalty gave her the courage to carry on....Her memoir seems to be both an attempt to face her own circumstances as well as to open the past and avenge the victims of the Khmer Rouge. A simply told, yet inspirational memoir about the reign of the Khmer Rouge that helps to shed light on the plight of the Cambodian people." Kirkus Reviews
"This memoir told from a child's viewpoint about the brutal Cambodian killing fields is a touching and illuminating human account and should not be missed by anyone around the world." Le Ly Hayslip, author of When Heaven And Earth Changed Places
"A gut-wrenching story, told with honesty, restraint, and dignity, When Broken Glass Floats is one of those books that open our minds to a world of unimaginable brutality and horror. This book, packed with authentic details, testifies to the gratuitousness of human suffering inflicted by a violent revolution. Page by page it brings history to life." Ha Jin, author of Waiting, winner of the National Book Award
"Out of a childhood of unspeakable loss and trauma, Chanrithy Him has fashioned this eloquent chronicle of survival, courage, and perseverance. This effort is not only a personal triumph but describes the Pol Pot regime as experienced by countless thousands of Cambodian children during those four years of terror." Willam H. Sack, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry and Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Oregon Health Sciences University
"In this breathtaking, luminous memoir, Chanrithy Him takes us into the chaotic world of the Khmer Rouge....Out of brightly colored shards of memory, she has assembled a spirited account of coming of age in a dark time, and a heart-breaking elegy for everything that was lost along the way." David Chandler, author of Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison
Chanrithy Him felt compelled to tell of surviving life under the Khmer Rouge in a way "worthy of the suffering which I endured as a child."
In the Cambodian proverb, "when broken glass floats" is the time when evil triumphs over good. That time began in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia and the Him family began their trek through the hell of the "killing fields." In a mesmerizing story, Him vividly recounts a Cambodia where rudimentary labor camps are the norm and technology, such as cars and electricity, no longer exists. Death becomes a companion at the camps, along with illness. Yet through the terror, Chanrithy's family remains loyal to one another despite the Khmer Rouge's demand of loyalty only to itself. Moments of inexpressible sacrifice and love lead them to bring what little food they have to the others, even at the risk of their own lives. In 1979, "broken glass" finally sinks. From a family of twelve, only five of the Him children survive. Sponsored by an uncle in Oregon, they begin their new lives in a land that promises welcome to those starved for freedom.
In this luminous memoir, Chanrithy Him takes readers into the chaotic world of the Khmer Rouge. Over the course of four years five members of her family, including her parents, die, and so do nearly two million other Khmer. Out of shards of memory, she has assembled a spirited account of coming of age in a dark time, and a heart-breaking elegy for everything that was lost along the way. Photos.
About the Author
Chanrithy Him, born in 1965, lives in Eugene, Oregon, where she works for the Khmer Adolescent Project, studying post-traumatic stress disorder among Cambodians.
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