I thought this book was amazing. The author had lived through the most unimaginably horrible experiences under the Khmer Rouge yet she writes in a way that is not bitter or in any way sympathy seeking. I found I could not put this book down, each time it seemed her life could not get any worse something awful happened and I really don't know how she survived. I think this book shows how much a human being can endure without giving in and Ms Him is a shining example of this. Im so glad that she has a new life in America now and I hope many people read this book and realise what the Cambodians went through under this terrible regime.
This is the story of two diametrically opposite childhoods. One of a carefree, intelligent young girl who revels in the company and love of her mak and pa and numerous siblings in time of peace - something most of us leave for granted and assume childhood should be. This world is cruelly shattered and the remaining sessions of the book are a hideous reminder of the depths of human suffering. All the while reading this book, you are made to feel a passive onlooker to the heart-rendering story of this teenager in the midst of the depravity around her. Instinctivly with each passing chapter I felt the urge to pull this little girl out of this madness and throw the book away - as if somehow the suffering might end. But the morbid curiosity compels you to keep reading - and the suffering only worsens, the lump in your throat grows larger. Most will not suffer the indignities of this little child in a multiple of lifetimes - but throughout she overcomes to persevere and outlast those who wrought this 'crime against humanity' in the truest sense of the word. Not a read for the faint hearted - as the cover of the book says 'gut-wrenching' - for everyone else a must.
'When Broken Glass Floats' is, on the very face of it, another grueling Khmer Rouge story - a real life tragic story about life under history's most brutal regime. In this it is a brilliant success - with vivid characters that seem as real as they were, this is a very human account of a breathtaking story.
But, in actual fact, When Broken Glass Floats seems to go beyond these bounds: by constantly talking about K'mai religion and culture you come to appreciate not just the immense suffering, but also the way in which a K'mai person, with their unique cultural outlook, came to view the events as they unfolded. With constant information about and references to K'mai language, beliefs, stories, folklore and social structures, the full effect of the events upon such a beautiful country can really be realised.
Whilst many books tell of stories under the Khmer Rouge in a clinical, culturally sterilised fashion, this author keeps her heritage with her at every step. For this reason, I recommend it as the best personal story to read, whether you've read everything else on the era already, or absolutely nothing at all.
Don't slot this into the war or "KR" genre. This is an eloquent and touching book by any standards, and despite the heavy context, I am certain that anybody, upon reading the first pages, will be spellbound. Fans of "God of Small Things" eat your heart out - this book invites you to observe the minutiae of life in seemingly exotic lands without being trite, and will leave you knowing things about yourself that you didn't before you read it.
A book detailing a child’s survival in 1970 Cambodia is not a novel. Highs and lows orchestrated by the author are absent here. This is not a feel-good story. It is a stark revelation of what it meant to be a child under one of the most ruthless regimes in Asia. This is the early 70s, when Cambodia became an experiment in radical socialism, and the Khmer Rouge took power and attempted to return the country to its pure, peasant history. Intellectuals were persecuted, farmers lauded and the entire population coerced into forced labour, resulting in mass malnutrition, disease, death and genocide. Figures vary but the commonly accepted fact is that two million people died, which equated to 25% of the country’s population. Him’s experience tells her story from the inside. The explosion of the Vietnam war onto their own soil, the break-up of her family, the loyal bonds of blood and country, the grinding misery of starvation and physical deprivation all take us with her, step by uncertain step. Her description of the ‘hospital’ in which her mother lay is almost unbearable. All this seen through a child’s eyes, conditioned to good manners and respect, to be thrown into a feral environment. Survival, food and reducing empathy to its narrowest circles is at the heart of this moving and powerful narrative. It’s a tough read, taking the reader along a bleak journey, with small spots of sunshine lit by human kindness. Yet all is overshadowed by a power-hungry ideology and its crushing hold on the population. This is an important book, the human face of a political tragedy, and a sobering read for enthusiasts of dystopian YA. You’ll enjoy this is you liked: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Minaret by Leila Aboulela Ideal Accompaniments: Fish-heads in rice, cold water and the theme to The Killing Fields.
Anyone who has read other Khmer Rouge surivors' accounts will find themselves on painfully familiar territory. Like Molyda Szymusiak's "The Stones Cry Out", this book tells of an intelligent, middle class girl whose adolescence is blighted by Pol Pot (and of course the foreign supporters who shamefully helped him along or turned blind eyes). It is a well written, horrifying story of the nightmare that was 70s Cambodia.
I picked up this book with great reluctance, knowing it to be yet another story of the victims of a war-torn country. In this day and age, there are sadly so many of them. Yet despite my fears, as I began to read, the pages seemed somehow to turn themslves, and I reached the end almost without realising it. Chanrithy Him was nine years old when the Khmer Rouge imposed their style of communist rule on the country of Cambodia. As a child, nothing made sense to her, terrible events overcame her family and her people with no apparent rhyme or reason. In this book she exquisitly captures this childlike view, recounting in a simple and direct manner, events as they happened; she does not distract the reader from the power of her story with an adult anaysis of the political situation nor of the motives of those involved. So we experience her resiliance to almost unendurable suffering, which involved uprooting of the family; the deaths through murder and starvation of members of her family; and her own destitution - suffering hunger, fever and forced labour. Despite this, what we are left with is a poignant story of love, loyalty and endurance. Chanrithy emerges from her ordeal as a vibrant, lively, girl with a strong sense of caring for others and a determinatio to make something good of her life. This is a memorable book about a terrible regime. It should not be missed.
That sentence is how Ms. Chanrithy Him describes where her soul rests, her old soul. When she came to America she feels she has a new body, but her core remains untouched.
Another reviewer states that these stories make him angry. There is no manner with which you can read a book like this and not feel a range of emotions of which anger might be the kindest description of what eats at you. The evil, the cruelty that humans inflict upon each other is so regular and so savage, I finish books like this and I don't know what to feel. If this were an isolated incident, an aberration, it would be easier to examine as any exception may be dissected.
Just during the 20th Century the following list of Genocides come to mind in the order they occurred, the slaughter of Armenians by the "Young Turks" when they decided to try to eradicate Armenia once again. This is where the phrase "Young Turk" originated. So if you hear it used, hopefully the speaker is not complimenting on the genocidal personality to whom the comment is directed. The speaker is probably just poorly informed. The Turkish Government to this day denies the Genocide ever took place. The Holocaust of the Jewish people by the Germany of WW II. Unlike Turkey, Germany has taken responsibility for what took place within her borders. The Japanese and the butchery they engaged in while they occupied Nanking in China. The demons who are described in this book including, The Khmer Rouge, lead by Pol Pot, again millions died. Arguably the distinction of greatest mass murder of all time would be the Russia/USSR of Lenin, Stalin, and the criminals who followed them. The carnage continues in Chechnya, and the majority of the Former Soviet Republics are trying to stay fed and warm.
Ms. Him is an astonishing human being. She not only survived this horror as a child, she had the courage to recall and place this horror in writing so that the rest of the world would know what she saw. She is an example of what the Human Spirit and its desire to survive are capable of. It is beyond my ability to imagine.
This little girl who would remember and continue to display respect with the traditional "sampea" when greeting someone, when to do so could have gotten her killed. She was as scared as anyone caught in this man made hell, but she was defiant and true to herself, perhaps that helped her to survive.
I had to put this book aside more than once while reading. The last book I had as much trouble getting through was "The Rape Of Nanking". I never finished that book. I have read about the historical events that I listed above, but that book was especially brutal. If may have been the photographs. The photographs in this book are not what you would expect. Ms. Him leaves the story between her and the reader, no photographs to shock, just her memories.
Genocide does not stop it only pauses, as the Hutus and Tutsis recently demonstrated. The sad conclusion may be that this sort of evil is part of who we are as a species. The events in Cambodia differ from events in the US in time only. What was done to Native Americans, The Slave Trade and the race problems that linger to this day, the difference is of method and time only.
Ms. Him also shares the amusing stories of the difficulties of shaking hands, or of her translating for doctors when the description may include certain areas more private than others. But by sharing this she also shares her transition from her culture as a child and then her new life as a young woman. Lest anyone suggest I have a problem with my own Country's History, I will save you the trouble, I do. The World often looks to us whether we choose the role or not, and candor with ourselves must come first.
In the end it did feel good when the thrill of the future was dominated by the fact she and the survivors in her family were coming to the US. Read the description of her first understanding of freedom, how dry your eyes will not be.
Thank you Ms. Him, and my condolences on the family and friends that were taken from you. Your coming to The United States will make us a better Country.
Beginning to end you feel part of this story, yet you realise how lucky you are to have not been growing up in Cambodia during the Khymer Rouge. Stories like this are so important and need to be read by as many people - what happened should never be forgotten. This is a personal account with a lot of emotion and realism.
You wont get any answers nor will you develop a greater understanding of what happened and why. But then neither did the author which makes it even more poignant.
This book is well written but difficult to read because of the true struggles of the Cambodian people illustrated in the telling of Pol Pot's murderous cruel regime. I am glad I hadn't read it before I visited this year as I would have gone around hugging everyone and saying how sorry I was for the way in which the world just let the Khmer Rouge get on with their wicked regime. The Cambodian people are rising above this slowly and with such dignity