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 diseaseall 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 yearsyears that he lived "like his country: scarred, and incapable of fully healing."
"The best book on Cambodia that has ever been published."
The best book on Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge2007/2/14
If you are interested in reading the memoir of someone who survived the reign of the Khmer Rouge, then I can't reccommend any other book higher. I have read two other books from survivors, but Ngor's book was by far my favourite.
What sets Ngor's book apart from the others that I have read is that Ngor was an adult when the Khmer Rouge took over. His memories are very lucid, and he fully comprehends what is going on around him. He watches his young wife die in his arms, those close to him betray, and everyone around him suffer. There are no high points throughout the entire odysey. Ngor brings you to the senseless and incomprehensible suffering that pervades every aspect of life under the Khmer Rouge.
One element I particularily enjoyed about Ngor's book is the extensive descriptions of Cambodian culture, attitudes and behaviour. Cambodian society (from what I can gather from what I have hitherto studied) is highly formal, with a rather complex series of formality set up for intereaction with others and a rather reserved character in regards to expression of feelings. The most important of which in this context being "kum," which is a sort of bitterness and longing for revenge, that becomes evident in a lot of what is happening. You will leave this read with a feeling of not only being inside of what is happening, but also for the actual mechanisms guiding behaviour.
This is, however, not a pleasant read in the least. The descriptions of the atrocities are beyond anything that I was expecting, and for that reason, I would seriously warn others that this is not for the faint at heart. Luckily, Ngor offers notes at the beginning of graphic chapters so that one can skip over them. You will lose sleep, and I can guarantee you that it makes any of those goofy horror movies like "Hostel" and "Turistas" look like a day at Disneyland. This horror is real, and not far in the past. Being that my normal area of study is Russian history, I have read a lot about the horrors of communism and tyranny, but nothing from the basements of Lyubyanka Prison or Mao Tse Tung's Cultural Revolution comes close to the abominable atrocities of Pol Pot's Cambodia.
Ngor also describes his role in the classic movie, The Killing Fields, as well as his integration of life in America. An afterword by friend Roger Warner ends the book on a particularily haunting and sad note, but rightfully so, none the less.
There are a lot of truely excellent books available by survivors of the Killing Fields, and this is the quintessential starting point for those who wish to learn more.
Deeply Touching and Informative2004/11/17
This book describes the graphic brutality of life under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Its author, the actor who played the Cambodian journalist in "The Killing Fields", suffered far worse tragedies and torture than the subject of that film did, yet miraculously he survived and thrived after the fall of the regime. This book is shocking in its candid (but never lurid) description of the brutality and injustice of the Khmer Rouge regime, but it is also deeply touching as the story of the destruction of this man's family. The love story of him and his wife, who survived the horrors together until a cruel and ironic twist of fate separated them forever, is worthy of Shakespeare, but the author describes all events simply, honestly and with humility. He also gives a clear and intelligent description of life in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge, which helps to make this book worthy reading for the historian. I strongly recommend Survival in the Killing Fields.
A Must read for any human being2004/9/5
This book by Oscar-winner Haing Ngor is deep, personal, and insightful. One can learn much about the character of the people of Cambodia and what led to the horrible genocide that the people committed to themselves.
Read this book and travel to the depths of human psychology, depravity, and struggle. My parents were children of the Killing Fields, and I was born in the refugee camp that you will see Ngor work at in the book. His story was emotionally stirring...
This book has changed me forever.2010/9/25
K. E. Chirdkiatisak
I came across this book because there has always been a nagging in my head, saying that although I was born Thai, I knew nothing about my neighbour. I was right. I have heard of the Killing Fields and Pol Pot and the genocide in Cambodia before, but I never actually known what happened, how and why and what role did Thailand played during that time.
I am shocked and ashamed of my own country that we let this went on for so many years; that our neighbour, whose every aspects in life are pretty much identical, were left to endure this hell for as long as we have been ignoring them.
Other reviews are absolutely spotted on about how the book describe so well about the event, the way the story were told and how absolutely incredible, and thus highly admirable, this guy has been through. I am not going to go over again on how good the book is as others had described it very well. But I wish this book is a compulsory reading for Thais and maybe for schools in other parts of the world because our generation were too comfortable and ignorant to realise how lucky we are. And our problems are basically non-problems.
Before reading this book, like what Dr. Ngor mentioned at some sections of the book that the Thais always look down on the Cambodians, he was right. But after this book, I have the greatest admiration for this country, its people and I hope all the best for its future it deserve - to make up of all the lost years.
And also, on the light of the recent (mildly)bloody red-shirt protest in Bangkok, this book draws a parallel between the Khmer rough and the red-shirts in the way that I cannot describe, although in much lesser degree. Had we learned something from our neighbour, we might been able to prevent so many recent mistakes. But we hadn't. And this book could be our answer.
One of the best book written in all times...
I read this book 2 years ago, and still consider it one of the most compelling and important books I have ever read. Besides being completely absorbed by this man's life and experiences, I learned so much valuable information about Cambodia from it that I wish it was required reading for anyone traveling there.
Blended seamlessly with the narrative you will learn of the history and culture of the Cambodians, the groundwork for the rise of the Khmer Rouge, the horrors and fallacies of life under a Communist regime, and the story of Pol Pot. I also gained an insight into Buddhist thought and daily life in Cambodia, all of which prepared me well for my trip there.
Haing Ngor's life story also helped me understand the damaging psychological consequences endured by the victims of this Holocaust, and of the difficulties Cambodians have had in trying to adjust to life in America. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this book, and many which can give us a better ability to analyze current international events. If you read no other book about Cambodia, read this one.