A survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime tells his story.
In his debut memoir, Ty recounts his childhood in Cambodia. The youngest child in a middle-class doctor’s family, Ty was 7 when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. His family was among the thousands relocated to rural villages, where they were forced to renounce their Westernized habits and remake themselves as agricultural laborers, always under the threat of reprisals from their guards. Ty vividly describes the horrors of the Khmer Rouge violence, but his tone is almost matter-of-fact, swaying the reader through brutal facts more than wrenching emotions: “The Khmer Rouge would have been treated as backward peasants, as children from the jungle who had never known city life, except for one thing; they had guns.” Although the family fought to survive—taking risks to steal extra food, avoiding the guards’ notice—Ty ended up an orphan. His father was murdered, and his mother died of malnutrition. He was separated from his older siblings—he later learned that several of them were also killed—and survived by himself, relying on intelligence, determination and a belief that his mother’s spirit was protecting him. Ty eventually made his way to the Khao-I-Dang refugee camp in Thailand, where American journalist Roger Rosenblatt featured him in an article in Time magazine. (Rosenblatt, who has remained in contact with Ty, writes the book’s introduction.) Ty’s eloquent description of his experience drew attention when the article was published in the United States. It inspired a woman named Marlena Brown to help settle Cambodian orphans in the United States. The Brown family adopted Ty, who writes compellingly of the cultural confusion and periods of adjustment that shaped his new life. His discomfort with indoor plumbing may bring a smile to the reader’s face, but when a camping vacation reminds him of his family’s jungle ordeal, the reader remembers how much he has endured.
An engaging, open memoir of one child’s wartime experiences.