This memoir of a girl, a princess, whose family, home, way of life is destroyed during the Communist Cambodian revolution did not sweep me away. It did remind me or Weisel's Night, which I find more effecting .
Certainly the narrator's, Raami's story , is devastating for her and her fellow Cambodians. She, and her countrymen, are separated from their loved ones, their culture, their religion, and their belongings. The wealthy, the intellectuals , the city people are removed and relocated and re educated to live with the rural, agrarian, peasants. Throwing their lot, their labor, their bodies to support the Communist Army is physically demanding. There is little food and exhaustive labor. The Army seems to be composed of illiterate 16 and 17 year olds with guns in their hands, hate in their hearts and the words of "the Organization" in their small, brain washed brains.
Raami, a five year old, opens the villa door for the soldiers and tells them her father's real name. Her feelings of guilt eat at her as much as the hunger she has because the rations provided are insufficient . She and her mother, work and adapt to the life of subsistence farmers, using gold jewelry to bribe the Communists when ever possible. The peasants, for the most part, accept them and accept their hard work. All of the fruits of their labor, rice, go to the Organization. Even the peasants are starved and worked to death.
Raami is gripped by the love, the lessons, the poetry of her deceased father, a prince, as she tries to grasp her mother, who seems more interested in holding onto her little sister.
Black is the color of the Revolution . The royal, colorful, silk clothes , the ability to read, the regal posture, the long hair, glasses and even the Raami's leg brace for her malformed leg are signs of their complicity in the poverty of the villages. Everything and almost everyone is taken from the little princess, but she survives.
I believe this was called "The Killing Fields" and like all genocides, the assaults, the degradations, the starvation , the senseless rules are only for the"others". During the Holocaust, the Jews were blamed for Germany And Europe's failing economy. They were enslaved, killed, worked to death and starved. But the non Jews were also impacted, forced to join the Army , contribute to the War Effort and were bombed by the Allies. There is another memoir, the name I've forgotten about boy soldiers in Africa who are also forced to fight as their families have been killed. They are drugged into submission.
It seems, people unlike animals turn on each other when they are disillusioned, unhappy and hungry, though they have no intention of eating the people and are not sure that these people are responsible for their unhappiness .
All that being said, the narrator is supposed to be a five year old who tells her story until she is eight. Her voice, is very adult. Though she does not understand politics,she seems to understand and explain everything in very adult language. The author, Vaddey Ratner, is an adult telling her memories of her childhood . It sounds like that, rather than a child telling her story. It is a terrible story which needs to be told. The fact that the narrator, is a princess and her family appears to have wealth and servants and doesn't work or contribute to the economy in any way except "trickle down," buying jewels, fancy cars, meats, employing gardeners while the villagers have no education, poor huts, are transported by oxen and live by the rice crops which may be destroyed or saved by the rains, and fish and insects as sources of protein makes it a true account, but makes me a little less sympathetic. In Night, and other stories of the Holocaust, the Jews were selected just because of their religion. In Cambodia, city dwellers, teachers, bus drivers,store keepers, etc. were all rounded up for "re education". Their stories might have been more effecting, though they would not have been the author's memoir .
I think this is an honest telling of atrocities in the name of revolution and freedom which are really just money grabs by vicious autocrats with guns and false promises. The writing is lovely and lyrical. I just question the "voice" of the narrator and her family's position in the Cambodian economy and political structure.(less)