When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge


  • Paperback
  • 336 pages
  • When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge
  • Chanrithy Him
  • English
  • 27 May 2015
  • 9780393322101

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When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer RougeThis memoir was a heart wrenching account of what it was like to live under the Khmer Rouge regimeHim's account starts when she was a child living in Phnom Penh Cambodia She goes onto describe the mass evacuation of her city and being placed in a labour camp She also goes onto describe the conditions of the camps starvation the loss of loved ones and the other horrors she facedIf you read this memoir it can help to put current refugee events into perspective Also make sure you have plenty of tissues near by In a mesmerizing story 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 AmericaA Finalist for the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize In preparation for our trip to Cambodia and the Killing Fields near Phnom Penh I read three books In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung and When Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him Each of the three books was about a young girl who with their families suffered under the Khmer Rouge communist regime and their genocide campaign The Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh its last obstacle to ruling all of Cambodia on April 17th 1975 They turned the cities into ghost towns evacuating or killing the city dwellers and forcing their populations into the countryside They abolished schools and universities They nullified markets and the monetary system making them all destitute And systematically executed all those in the former government and military the teachers the doctors the religious leaders and any they viewed as intellectualssometimes just because they wore glasses All this was done to satisfy Pol Pot's dream of turning Cambodia into an agrarian state isolated from Western influence But this was just the beginning of the Khmer Rouge atrocities When the country was liberated from the regime in January of 1979 an estimated 2 million Cambodians had suffered death under the regime Almost an entire nation was orphaned Both First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung and When Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him are autobiographical whereas In the Shadow of the Banyan is a novel though based on the author's experiences If you are only going to read one of these three books I recommend reading First They Killed My Father for its scope However I do still recommend reading this book as well Thy's short for Chanrithy story of war starts 6 years before the other two stories in 1969 where we get a glimpse of how the competing agendas of the US government and the Chinese government played a role in the rise of the Khmer regime and a Cambodian nation at war before the beginning of the genocide And though it is a story that relates to Loung Ung's story it also adds depth of understanding that is not offered if you only read one book In this book you also find the truth that not all the Khmer Rouge were evil but they themselves were trying to survive As I stare at these Khmer Rouge Uncle Seng's last words replay in my mind The Khmer Rouge are my first enemy I won't stay to see their faces This is the delicious power of the mind they can't stop me from my silent thoughts They can't interrogate my memories This book is so depressing it would make Pollyanna eat a gunHowever it was incredibly powerful and moving I put the book down a few times refusing to pick it up again I skimmed some of the awful parts 3 year old brother dying pregnant woman being slaughtered and was rewarded with one simple thing this woman survives and comes out tough and compassionate She manages to rise above where others crumble One of many Cambodian stories that need to be heard 35 starsSpurred by my first visit to Cambodia and to 4 other Southeast Asian countries earlier this year I returned home dissatisfied by my own ignorance Despite taking an Advanced Placement History course in high school my main takeaway from the Vietnam War was that my country’s involvement was motivated by the Domino Theory of containment to stop the spread of Communism I didn’t know until my visit that the US military had also been active in Cambodia and Laos as part of that strategy I sensed a great deal of self censorship from my local tour guide in Phnom Penh I had visited the Tuol Sleng genocide museum and this led me to read Chanrithy Him’s “Athy” When Broken Glass Floats WBGF for a group book of the month I know that the author hadn’t been imprisoned there because only about a dozen survivors all men had been freed from the infamous S 21 prison Nor did I expect WBGF to provide me with a comprehensive overview of the Khmer Rouge which it didn’t since it was the author’s account of her life from age four to sixteen Her purpose for writing her memoir was to give voice to other victims so that mental health help could be provided to children exposed to war It was also Athy’s act of defiance and vengeance to the Khmer Rouge which still had not been tried for crimes against humanity by 2000 the publication year of WBGF despite efforts from both the United Nations and the then Cambodian government WBGF was initially a slow read for me The preface had set the stage for some of the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities such as children had witnessed other humans cut up so that their livers could be eaten My mind also still contained horrific images from Tuol Sleng which had housed the worst of the documented cruelties such as the dried blood and bodily fluid stained floors of the closet sized prison cells So my anticipatory fears of what had occurred to Athy and her family made me uite reluctant to read Although my worst fears weren’t realized Athy’s childhood was still truly harrowing to read We eat tadpoles crickets toads centipedes mice rats and scorpions We eat everything Hunger owns usIn a world in which pens and writing signified the outlawed indicators of education Athy said that the passage of time was marked by the deaths of her family members This conseuently made my reading progress marked by the need for chocolate to mitigate the grim realities that I was reading But now that I have finished WBGF I was most struck by Athy’s desire to live which sustained her through the deaths of her parents and five siblings starvation and enslavement as an agricultural laborer view spoilerBorn in 1965 Athy was the sixth child of ten for her parents Pa and Mak Two brothers died from lack of medical treatment in 1969 in the aftermath of the shelling following the Viet Cong into Cambodia After the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh in April 1975 Pa was the first to be brutally murdered in June 1975 Three other siblings died slowly from illness brought upon by starvation and malnutrition between 1976 and 1978 Her mother Mak ill from starvation was still alive when the Khmer Rouge threw her into a well with other corpses When they reached a United Nations refugee camp in 1979 Athy was 14 and her four remaining siblings ranged in age from 4 to 22 hide spoiler I think people are generally reluctant to give this book a low rating due to it's subject matter Seeing as how the author actually experienced the atrocities she described it would be a pretty low blow to critiue a book that is essentially her story as she experienced it However it needs to be said that the writing was pretty juvenile The dialogue is really stilted and the characters were pretty undeveloped A really complex situation was pretty much boiled down to bad guys vs good guys with the good guys being people in her family or who she befriended and the bad guys being all of the Khumer Rouge I am in no way saying that the work she is doing and the writing of the book are not valuableBoth endeavors shed light on the atrocities ordinary Cambodians faced under Pol Pot which is important for people for whom this conflict seems too far too long ago and too foreign to know about Having said that I think the book would have definitely benefited from some structural upgradesThe descriptions of her family members were not very detailed or compelling I always find it hard to endure descriptions of people that center on only the positive things about them People are multifaceted and complex Everyone even the stoic matriarch would have had flaws or weaknesses that I think are worth mentioning because they are easier to relate to In this case I found it hard to relate to the author's family both because of the details she chose to share and the heavy use of romanized Cambodian through the text This was unnecessary and distracting The main criticism I have of this memoir is that it fails to give a context to her experiences The average person reading this kind of book probably lacks sufficient historical knowledge to be able to make sense of the events that transpired I got a sense that the author wrote this work in a large part as a way to make sense of her experiences and give them voice so that she could make peace with her past I think that is very valuable but I couldn't help thinking that part of making peace is getting some perspective on what transpired I felt that this work did not communicate that It ended as abruptly as it started I would have loved to have background on the rise of the Khumer Rouge movement the role of the US and it's containment policy that lead to the war in Vietnam and well as the role of the neighboring countries like Thailand This was necessary in that it would help explain the motivations of the revolutionaries as well as the resistance movement in Cambodia Going forward this would have helped contextualize her experiences in the refugee camps as well because Thailand's involvement was key to establishing trade markets and a sense of normalcy for the Camboidian refugees living close to the border It was not however a perfect relationship as many Thai people revictimized the refugees by trafficking them or treating them unfailrly as evidenced by several anecdotes from the story Again I cannot speak confidently on this topic because it was not elaborated upon in any great detail and was not put into contextThere were so many parts of the book that I felt needed elaboration She hinted at issues that would have made for a compelling read One example is the role of semi collaborators like the man who helped the author obtain food and who seemed to be empathetic to her plight Who were these people Were they the exception to the rule or were acts of furtive kindness pervasive through the cruelty of the revolution I have to admit I want to believe the latter but as Him didn't really say much about that aspect of her story other than to express gratitude I have to read additional books on the subjectHim also hints at the cultural legacy of the period and how transformative it was for the mentality of the people This is crystallized when Him has the courage to stand up for herself in class when accused of plagarism She notes that the revolution allowed people to step outside the Confucian hierarchies that had defined inter generational communication Without the revolution without having gone through what she went through she would have never talked to an elder in that way despite being in the right Other times there appears to be a nostalgia a comfort when people address her using traditional Cambodian greetings which always take into account the speaker's social position relative to the receiver's I sensed there is to this ambivalence about cultural shifts resulting from the revolution than Him addressed But those can not be spoken about without acknowledging the complexity of the situation and of people's experience These issues reuire a detailed informed analysis that the one Him provides the readers with in this book Without providing much of a context for the events she describes Him works tends to put the reader outside the situation like a person morbidly observing a car crash I get that this recreates how it must have felt for the ordinary people involved but it does little to educate the general public reading about it today Without contextualizing her experiences the book is just an array or tear inducing memories When Broken Glass Floats🍒🍒🍒🍒🍒By Chanrithy Him2000This memoir begins before the rise of the Khymer Regime when the US government and China government both played significant roles in the Khymer regime before the beginning of the genocideWhen Khymer Rouge took control of Phnon Phen on April 17 1975 they evacuated or killed entire cities forcing those that could escape into the countryside Night stretches into day The revolution of the train wheels on the track sing me to sleep then I wake to rays of sunlight that flirt through the cracks of the sliding door telling me that time has passed even if my own world has stopped brought to a standstill in this freight carAs a young girl seeing and experiencing the execution of all people deemed intelligent teachers political and church leadersdoctors Then beginning to kill anyone at random for any reasonseeing pregnant women executed children's head blown offthese were everyday occurrencesBeing seperated from your family eating plant roots and mice for survival suffering sickness and disease with no medical helpall to fulfill Pol Pot dream of a land with no western influenceThan is uiet but we can feel remorse in his silence Tonight has brought us brief joy then grief Agony at the realization that the Khmer Rouge have shaped us made our tempers brittle and our hunger sharp Led us to the point where we could be as cruel to one another as they are to usThy suffered her heart broke watching the brutal reality working in extreme conditions with little nutrition or clothingwatching those close to her and her family suffer fall ill or die They broke her heart but hardened her resolve and determination to make it throughIt made Thy a remarkable women of strength compassion and emotionally integrity To live through this horror is truly a phenomenon but to be able to tell the story live through it again to put it on paper is truly inspiringHighly recommendedas a personal memoir and one that will inspire you to always rise above This turned out to be one of the very best personal accounts of survival during the Pol Pot Regime I've read eight others mostly by women who were children or in their early teens at the time Chanrithy Him's prose is smooth and engrossing after the first chapter which was hard to get through full of angry bitterness over her experiences; perfectly understandable but it doesn't draw the reader in just establishes a barrier After this however she warms up to her subject and paints a vibrant picture of her agonizing struggle for survival during which she loses three siblings and her mother to starvation and her father to a Khmer Rouge death suad Told in the present tense the prose is vivid and moves easily back and forth between her internal emotions and the events of her story and is especially good about explaining cultural and linguistic characteristics relevant to the story But we can tell that she is not a professional writer many words are overused and descriptions are repetitive houses are compared to mushrooms in at least five places There is also at least one historical error Him describes meeting a KPNLF soldier prior to May 1979 when the KPNLF did not exist until October of that year Nonetheless I'd rate this at the top of the list of Khmer Rouge survival stories for clarity and readability The ending when she finally gets on a plane for the US is particularly satisfying The book has a lot in common with Molyda Szymusiak's The Stones Cry Out but is far human and introspective and it compares well with Loung Ung's First They Killed My Father which has been criticized for its implausible portrayal of a peaceful Phnom Penh in 1975 when the city was actually under siege I was pretty clueless about the Cambodian genocide under the rule of the Khmer Rouge We were headed to Cambodia a few years ago and a friend suggested this book Don't read this book in public I wept like a baby when I read of the torture and loss of this sweet little girl She is actually close to my age and has lived many lives I came away from this book not only educated but grateful sad disgusted and amazed at the will to live God does hear our prayers Chanrithy writes with such power and so matter of fact I think every teenager and up should read this the Holocaust seems so long ago yet this happened during the 70s I would not recommend children read this book One can read history names and dates and numbers but to truly understand it is better to get into the lives of those who lived that history This book does that


About the Author: Chanrithy Him

Born in Takeo Province and now lives in Portland Oregon Chanrithy Him is a child survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide She is an international speaker Human Rights activist and author of the widely acclaimed award winning memoir When Broken Glass Floats Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge Norton In 2004 she received a personal thank you letter from Secretary of State Madeleine K Albright