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Old tales told by the young ones now back home


There’s a certain logic to the bookshelf bombardment of memoirs from the Khmer Rouge era in the last five years.

Those that were children under regime are now in their forties, and the combination of maturity and distance has granted the necessary perspective for pouring one’s heart out on the page.

At the same time, the attention granted to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal over the last five years has granted these authors an international market.

If there’s one thing to quibble with in this trove of recollections, it’s that most of them are written by those who fled the country in the upheaval of 1979, often winding up in the chaotic filth of Thai refugee camps before making a new home in France or the States.

While these stories have their own merits, as their authors become reacquainted with the culture and society from which they have been forcibly alienated, rare is the genocide memoirist who remained in the country to watch it rebuild under the most fraught circumstances while staying  sane.

Chhay Sophal’s recollections are valuable for this reason. An account of the Phnom Penh evacuation, his family’s forced relocation to a non-descript village, and his education at the hands of an organisation rabidly committed to violently upheaving the individual family structure, Mom and Angkar’s Kids is rich with historical detail, coloured by Chhay Sophal’s extensive knowledge of the structure and workings of the Khmer Rouge gleaned from the tribunal’s testimony.

As a former Reuters reporter teacher, Chhay Sophal’s work shows a meticulousness and attention often lacking in other memoirs.

A reader could be in two minds about the prose itself: either the lack of a strong editor has made the book a much more convoluted read than necessary, or the author’s sovereignty over his work has allowed for more local language quirks and idioms than a westerner with a red pen would’ve allowed.

Mom and Angkar’s Kids by Chhay Sophal is available from Monument Books for $9.00.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sean Gleeson at



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