A harrowing graphic memoir by a Cambodian survivor of human trafficking.
As a boy, Prum loved drawing and showed obvious talent. “One of my first memories is of drawing pictures of Bruce Lee in the dirt in front of our house,” he writes, a memory captured in finely etched detail toward the beginning of his powerful memoir. As a teenager, he had run away from his boyhood home, determined to escape the brutalities of his stepfather. Since there was no money in drawing, Prum became a soldier and then a monk. Discovering that life in the monastery didn’t suit him, and realizing art alone could not support him, he found work harvesting crops. There he met his wife, and soon she became pregnant, forcing the author to find more reliable work to support his family. He learned about a better-paying opportunity within the Thai fishing industry, but by the time he boarded his ship, he realized that instead of finding the higher pay the middle man had promised, he had been sold into slavery. He wouldn’t see his wife or even his native Cambodia again for five years: “Three years and seven months on a boat, four months on the plantation, one month in the hospital, and eight months in Malaysian police stations and jails.” On the boat, he witnessed a decapitation and other slaves thrown overboard when they were too sick to work. His escape to Malaysia led him to corrupt police who resold him to work on the plantation, where the owner was protected by the legal system. He was incarcerated “for illegal migration” before he agreed to lie to clear the plantation owner and returned home to a wife who didn’t recognize or believe him—until he rendered this graphic account. “And so I drew my way back into my family home,” he explains.
Excellent drawing accompanies a remarkable story of persistence—and yet the artist still has trouble making a living in his native Cambodia, while human trafficking on land and sea continues to flourish.