Despite the nightmarish undertones of violence and despair, a nimble, probing, memorable story that ought not be overlooked...




A remarkable as-told-to memoir of survival, combining frequent reveries regarding the fragile beauty and traditions of Cambodia with an often horrifying narrative of the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge.

Relief worker Lafreniere indicates in her prefatory note that this book evolved as “a literary account of a personal experience told by one person and written by another.” She first met Daran Kravanh, a Cambodian refugee, in 1992 at the Refugee Assistance Program of Tacoma, Washington. Her account of Kravanh’s sufferings and exile sacrifices neither immediacy nor authenticity in its telling; Lafreniere’s clean prose captures the lilt and fragility of Kravanh’s voice. Their collaborative prose is graceful and clear, firmly anchored to an enduring cultural history reliant upon an abundance of natural spiritual metaphors, Buddhist roots, and the prominence of familial roles in determining larger social bonds. It is perhaps partly on account of the very gentleness of the Cambodian people (a trait reflected in the voice of Kravanh’s narrative) that the Khmer Rouge were able to come to power in the first place. Though the nature of their regime is well known, Kravanh is able to offer fresh perspectives, tracing how the faction broadened its reach gradually and insidiously during the early years of its rise, and he even arrives at difficult insights regarding his countrymen’s susceptibility to this particular evil. The tale of Kravanh’s endurance is not pretty: over the years, he is shifted between various communal projects where hunger is enforced and infractions against Angkar (the Khmer state) bring summary execution, and he eventually loses most of his family (beginning with his father, a highly regarded police official) to the bloodthirsty regime. His survival comes through startling, seemingly foreordained means: early on he finds an abandoned accordion (an instrument he had learned to play as a child), and he is frequently saved from execution or otherwise rewarded by Khmer soldiers who wish to hear him play. This provides a subtle commentary on the loneliness and need underlying the most bestial of human impulses.

Despite the nightmarish undertones of violence and despair, a nimble, probing, memorable story that ought not be overlooked among recently published, higher-profile Khmer-era Cambodian narratives.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8248-2227-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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