Bookshelf Spotlight: Cambodia, The Khmer Rouge, & Genocide

Featured University Of Hawai’i Press Publishing

* Love and Dread in Cambodia: Weddings, Births, and Ritual Harm under the Khmer Rouge

Love and Dread in Cambodia: Weddings, Births, and Ritual Harm under the Khmer Rouge


by Peg LeVine
University Of Hawai’i Press, 2010

For a decade, the author followed Cambodian men and women to former wedding and birth sites from the Khmer Rouge period (1975-79), filming their return to these locations. In the process she uncovered evidence of the way severe dislocation, induced starvation and other murderous activities paved the way for reconstructed communes. Group marriages, along with prescriptions for sex, pregnancies, and births, were a central feature of the remaking of Cambodian society and contributed to the dissolution of the country’s ritual practices. This “ritualcide” caused a mass loss of spirit-protective places, objects, and arbitrators, and had a traumatic impact on Khmer society. Group marriages did, however, give spouses a reprieve from further dislocation.

Approaching the process as an ethno-psychologist, LeVine argues that suffering was intensified by ritual tampering on the part of the Khmer Rouge. Such disruptions did not end in 1979, however, since Euro-American perspectives on trauma and reconciliation have also failed to accept spirit respect as a normative feature.

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Featured Books

* Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare
* Survival in the Killing Fields
* Voices from S-21 – Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison
* When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge
* Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land

Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare


by Philip Short
Owl Books, 2006

Observing Pol Pot at close quarters during the one and only official visit he ever made abroad, to China in 1975, Philip Short was struck by the Cambodian leader’s charm and charisma. Yet Pol Pot’s utopian experiments in social engineering would result in the death of one in every five Cambodians–more than a million people.

How did an idealistic dream of justice and prosperity mutate into one of humanity’s worst nightmares? To answer these questions, Short traveled through Cambodia, interviewing former Khmer Rouge leaders and sifting through previously closed archives around the world. Key figures, including Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, Pol’s brother-in-law and foreign minister, speak here for the first time.

Short’s masterly narrative serves as the definitive portrait of the man who headed one of the most enigmatic and terrifying regimes of modern times.

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Survival in the Killing Fields


by Haing Ngor & Roger Warner
Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1987

Nothing has shaped my life as much as surviving the Pol Pot regime. I am a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust. That’s who I am,” says Haing Ngor. And in his memoir, Survival in the Killing Fields, he tells the gripping and frequently terrifying story of his term in the hell created by the communist Khmer Rouge. Like Dith Pran, the Cambodian doctor and interpreter whom Ngor played in an Oscar-winning performance in The Killing Fields, Ngor lived through the atrocities that the 1984 film portrayed. Like Pran, too, Ngor was a doctor by profession, and he experienced firsthand his country’s wretched descent, under the Khmer Rouge, into senseless brutality, slavery, squalor, starvation, and disease-all of which are recounted in sometimes unimaginable horror in Ngor’s poignant memoir. Since the original publication of this searing personal chronicle, Haing Ngor’s life has ended with his murder, which has never been satisfactorily solved. In an epilogue written especially for this new edition, Ngor’s coauthor, Roger Warner, offers a glimpse into this complex, enigmatic man’s last years-years that he lived “like his country: scarred, and incapable of fully healing.”

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Voices from S-21 – Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison


by David P. Chandler
Silkworm Books, 2000

The horrific torture and execution of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge during the 1970s is one of the century’s major human disasters. David Chandler, a world-renowned historian of Cambodia, examines the Khmer Rouge phenomenon by focusing on one of its key institutions, the secret prison outside Phnom Penh known by the code name “S-21.” The facility was an interrogation center where more than 14,000 “enemies” were questioned, tortured, and made to confess to counterrevolutionary crimes. Fewer than a dozen prisoners left S-21 alive.
During the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) era, the existence of S-21 was known only to those inside it and a few high-ranking Khmer Rouge officials. When invading Vietnamese troops discovered the prison in 1979, murdered bodies lay strewn about and instruments of torture were still in place. An extensive archive containing photographs of victims, cadre notebooks, and DK publications was also found. Chandler utilizes evidence from the S-21 archive as well as materials that have surfaced elsewhere in Phnom Penh. He also interviews survivors of S-21 and former workers from the prison.

Documenting the violence and terror that took place within S-21 is only part of Chandler’s story. Equally important is his attempt to understand what happened there in terms that might be useful to survivors, historians, and the rest of us. Chandler discusses the “culture of obedience” and its attendant dehumanization, citing parallels between the Khmer Rouge executions and the Moscow Show Trails of the 1930s, Nazi genocide, Indonesian massacres in 1965-66, the Argentine military’s use of torture in the 1970s, and the recent mass killings in Bosnia and Rwanda. In each of these instances, Chandler shows how turning victims into “others” in a manner that was systematically devaluing and racialist made it easier to mistreat and kill them. More than a chronicle of Khmer Rouge barbarism, Voices from S-21 is also a judicious examination of the psychological dimensions of state-sponsored terrorism that conditions human beings to commit acts of unspeakable brutality.

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When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge


by Chanrithy Him
W. W. Norton & Company, 2000

Chanrithy Him vividly recounts her trek through the hell of the “killing fields.” She gives us a child’s-eye view of a Cambodia where rudimentary labor camps for both adults and children are the norm and modern technology no longer exists. Death becomes a companion in the camps, along with illness. Yet through the terror, the members of Chanrithy’s family remain loyal to one another, and she and her siblings who survive will find redeemed lives in America.

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Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land


by Joel Brinkley
PublicAffairs, 2011

A generation after the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia shows every sign of having overcome its history-the streets of Phnom Penh are paved; skyscrapers dot the skyline. But under this facade lies a country still haunted by its years of terror.

Joel Brinkley won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in Cambodia on the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime that killed one quarter of the nation’s population during its years in power. In 1992, the world came together to help pull the small nation out of the mire. Cambodia became a United Nations protectorate-the first and only time the UN tried something so ambitious. What did the new, democratically-elected government do with this unprecedented gift?

In 2008 and 2009, Brinkley returned to Cambodia to find out. He discovered a population in the grip of a venal government. He learned that one-third to one-half of Cambodians who lived through the Khmer Rouge era have P.T.S.D.-and its afflictions are being passed to the next generation. His extensive close-up reporting in Cambodia’s Curse illuminates the country, its people, and the deep historical roots of its modern-day behavior.

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