When someone has endured great suffering we must allow them to tell their tale in their own way. We do not interrupt them, or tell them that theirs is an old story, or that it merits a better storyteller. So it is difficult to review this book: the author has lived through the Cambodian genocide; as a member of the Cambodian royal family she has a unique perspective on a terrible event. She has lived through the evacuation of Phnom Penh, seen her father taken away to certain death, watched her baby sister die from malaria after she and her mother are separated from her other relatives and sent to a remote village to live as peasants, and endured months of forced labour before the regime is finally toppled by the invading Vietnamese, living in conditions little better than in a Nazi death camp. Unfortunately, for me at least, the book did not really work. Presented as a novel, it is hard to be sure that any particular incident is being reported very truthfully, and, again because the book is a novel, it has to be judged to on its literary merits, which for me are dubious. The story is told through the eyes of the seven year old Raami (two years older than the actual author). However, while the insight is perhaps that of a child - there is very little depth to the characterisation, or exploration of what motivates the revolutionaries - the voice of the writing is adult and literary, and, to my mind at least, somewhat overly so. At times I felt as though I was reading a ghost-written biography. I was quite frequently irritated by imagery which seemed obscure or inaccurate, which I did not feel was very natural, but smacked of an author trying much too hard. I still remember the shock I felt when I watched "The Killing Fields" - I doubt I have ever watched a more harrowing film. Sadly, unlike that film, this book did not really deepen my understanding of what it must have been to live through the terrible events it describes. And, because the Khmer Rouge appears only as a collection of mostly horrible men who shout, threaten, and kill without reason, I am not very motivated to try to find out much more about what drove its leaders to so ill-treat their people, nor to investigate what part Western interference might have played in its rise and fall. I wish I could recommend this book more highly, but, in truth, I can only hope that there is a better one about this period still to be written or discovered.
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