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To the End of Hell: One Woman's Struggle to Survive Cambodia's Khmer Rouge [Hardcover]

Denise Affonco , Jon Swain , David Chandler
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

30 Oct 2007
- To be permanently hungry and to watch your little eight-year old girl slowly dying, without being able to give her anything at all, is an unbearable torment - In one of the most powerful memoirs of persecution ever written, Denise Affonço recounts how her comfortable life was torn apart when the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia in April 1975. A French citizen she was offered the choice of fleeing the country with her children or staying by her husband s side. Chinese and a convinced communist, he believed that the Khmer Rouge would bring an end to five years of civil war. She decided that the family should stay together. But peace did not return and along with millions of their fellow citizens they were deported to the countryside to a living hell where they endured almost four years of hard labour, famine, sickness and death. What gives this book its remarkable freshness is that much of it was written in the months after Denise Affonço s liberation in 1979. After that, she had to rebuild her life with her surviving son in France and the carbon copy manuscript was all but forgotten. It was only when some 25 years later she met a European academic who told her that the Khmer Rouge did nothing but good for Cambodia that she realised it was time to end her silence. Her phenomenal testimony sold 50,000 copies when published in 2005 in France. Part of the profits from the sales of To The End of Hell will go the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), where a scholarship has been set up in the name of Denise Affonço s daughter, who starved to death in 1976 under the Khmer Rouge regime. DC-Cam is an independent research centre dedicated to recording the history of the Khmer Rouge period. The Centre s archival holdings are providing the bulk of the documentary evidence at the UN backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal which is taking place in Cambodia.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Reportage Press (30 Oct 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0955572959
  • ISBN-13: 978-0955572951
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 902,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'The sober and moving retelling of a nightmare survived' --The Economist

'Vivid and detailed' --The New York Times Review of Books

'A number of survivors of the Khmer Rouge have recorded their experience in memoirs. Affonco has written one of the best' --The Sunday Times

About the Author

As Denise Affonço herself writes - I m a pure product of colonialism, a Eurasian, born in Phnom Penh in November 1944, to a French father and a Vietnamese mother. When the Khmer Rouge seized power in April 1975 her peaceful life was torn apart. She was deported with her husband, a communist idealist, and their two children to the countryside. In 1979, four hellish years were brought to an end when the Vietnamese invaded. She and son her son Jean-Jacques survived. Today, she is remarried and lives in Paris.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
When I visited Cambodia two years ago, I was there for only four days and had time to take in Angkor Wat and that was about it. I really regretted not taking the time to visit the Killing Fields and sought out a book that would try to compensate for missing out. Luckily Denise's book definitely did this for me.

Affonco wrote the original manuscript immediately after her ordeal was over, giving it an incredible immediacy. I knew that the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge must have been tragic, but with `To the End of Hell' the oppression takes on a meaning and reality it would be impossible to glean from a text book. It feels like Denise is sitting and telling you her story herself.

The new trial for those significant leaders of the Khmer Rouge (sadly not Pol Pot as he is already dead) is coming up soon in Cambodia, backed by the UN. Undoubtedly this will garner massive press coverage, but reading this book gives a human back-story to something we've probably all heard about but know little of.

Almost as good as visiting the country itself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To the end of Hell by Denise Affonco 24 Sep 2010
By megan
To the end of hell by Denise Affonco, is the life of one woman's struggle to survive Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, for four long, long years, then liberation came in 1979 when the Vietnamese invaded. Denise tell her story so clearly and so vivid that as you read every page you can feel the pain and see how much it cost her and everyone to survive under the Khmer Rouge. It was such a terrible time and still to this day Cambodia fights for life each and every day. Denise tells us of the hardships and loss of her family, illness and the fight just to stay alive. In these camps (villages, so called) how they are treated so bad it made me cry, when reading parts of it. They have lost everything, their home's, everything they owned etc., It is one of the best books i have read this year. I would recommend it to be read by everyone and just think about what life was like for Denise and her family during this terrible time, and then pray for the people of Cambodia.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A humble and horrific survival testimony 18 July 2008
By T-Rexx - Published on Amazon.com
This book is the testimony of a young Franco-Vietnamese lady in her early thirties who is dragged, along with her family, into the hell of the Khmer Rouges revolution back in April 1975. With her family (husband, daughter, son and close relatives), she's forced into leaving Phnom Penh to get to the countryside, along with hundreds of thousands of Phnom Penh inhabitants. In the span of a mere few days, she finds herself drawn from a routine, enjoyable life with lots of references and a defined position in her society, into a daily struggle for survival that decimates the ones she loves, one by one. Sounds like a good action/survival plot to you? Well, make no mistakes, it's actually a REAL testimony...

Denise Affonco's narration covers her survival and so called "life" across the whole Khmer Rouges' obnoxious reign, from 1975 to the Vietnamese liberation in 1979. This alone makes the whole book very interesting. It reads like a novel, well and cleanly written -I read the French version of it. As surprising or horrifying as some of the scenes might be, they're true. Unfortunately.

Although hers is no isolated case, with plenty of Cambodians having already told, written or shown the story of their survival in cinema (Killing Fields, S21 etc.), her book is a vivid narration of this nightmarish communist rule, as well as a marvelous testimony of human resistance and adaptation in the face of sheer horror. It is a text-book illustration of the power of hope and free will. Imprisoning someone's body is one thing, imprisoning someone's mind is another. True freedom is in our mind, that's one of this book's main messages.

With the last senior Khmer Rouges' progressive return to oblivion (thank God!), her book resonates even louder. This recollection of tragic events must be seen as a deeply humane testimony against forgetting the extent of the horror that human beings were once capable of achieving, as well as a formidable account of human grandeur in the face of extreme adversity.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Clear and Vivid Portrait of Hell 3 Mar 2010
By C. Macauley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an extremely well-crafted account of survival during Kampuchea's Pol Pot Regime. While often painful to read, it represents some of the best memoir writing on this particular place and time and offers a somewhat atypical point of view because the author is not Cambodian.

Denise Affonço was born in Phnom Penh of a French-Indian father and a Vietnamese mother. Well-educated and fluent in French, English and Vietnamese (she learned Khmer during the Khmer Rouge years), she describes an experience that typifies the era: backbreaking physical labor, inhuman living conditions, brutality and starvation. What sets this account apart from the 15 other memoirs of this period that I've read is Affonço's careful, delicate prose and her crystal clear elaboration of the story. The author has taken pains to place her experience within the greater context of events of the period, which she does without belaboring the history; instead footnotes sprinkled throughout the book keep us informed of political and social trends that affected her survival. But more importantly, this is no mere recounting of events: Affonço does a magnificent job of describing her own emotional anguish as her life is stripped down to the bare elements of survival, and her son and daughter are exposed to the horrors of hunger and danger at the hands of their heartless Khmer Rouge guards.

The most poignant moment comes when Affonço's 9-year-old daughter Jeanie dies of starvation. Rendered in painful detail, this death is portrayed both tenderly and cruelly, imbued with a bereaved mother's endless agony and remorse. Affonço owes her decision to go on surviving after this to her son, who had apparently rejected her but was only pretending in order to conform to Khmer Rouge policies.

Hunger was the cruelest torture inflicted on the victims of Pol Pot's madness, and Affonço does not spare us the obsessive nature of her suffering. Her daily search for anything to eat in order to stave off death is almost elegant in its horrifying intensity:

"I am tormented, tortured by hunger--yes, I call this a slow-burning torture, a death sentence by degrees, because who could ever have imagined that men such as these Khmer Rouge could be perverted enough to watch us die of hunger without so much as lifting a little finger! I have no self-respect left...what pride can be left in me when I go as far as to compete with animals for their food?" (p. 130)

Affonço was at death's door when the Vietnamese invaded Kampuchea in early 1979, but she made her way to Siem Reap and found employment as a translator. She expresses immense gratitude to a Vietnamese doctor who showed compassion and kindness to her--in contrast to almost everyone else at that time who reviled the Vietnamese. Arriving in France in 1980, she was told to keep her gratitude to herself.

Altogether this is a highly readable book, rich in historical detail in addition to being a marvelously human story of survival. Affonço is a keen observer and a skillful writer. Sadly, the translation is often clumsy with occasional grammatical errors and misused words. All the same, Affonço's gift for narrative shines through and the reader is treated to a vivid and unnerving portrait of hell.
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