Kirkus Review

KIRKUS REVIEW “An account of murder, starvation, bravery, and faith under Cambodia’s dreaded Khmer Rouge regime.”

In 1974, Siv Eng, a Cambodian teenager from the rural town of Battambang, was full of hope for a promising future when she joined her younger sister, Sourn Leng, in a Phnom Penh apartment. There, they planned to live as they pursued pharmacy studies at the University of Health Science. They joined their older brother, Pho–a freshly minted electrical engineer–and his young wife, Sok Yann, as well as their aunt Chhiv Hong and other family members. But their lives were about to turn nightmarish, as the Khmer Rouge were about to take over the country. In this debut biography, Allen relates, in Siv Eng’s voice, the gripping story of her aunt’s struggle to survive seemingly unrelenting terror. In the 1970s, Allen notes, the Khmer Rouge enslaved the entire country’s population, eliminated education, money, the judicial system, private property, as well as any type of happiness, including singing, that the regime considered a sign of capitalist decadence. Throughout this book, the author employs a matter-of-fact, almost flat prose style that contrasts well with the horror of the narrative that she relates in her aunt’s voice. Along the way, Allen effectively reveals the privation and misery created by the Cambodian communists as Siv Eng survived in her country’s wasteland; she found hope in only two things–her love of her family members and her quiet, lasting sense of prayer: “We were so hungry,” Siv Eng narrates, “The suffering was unbearable. Instead of using the rice to feed the hungry mouths, the Angkar [Khmer Rouge] was feeding bullets to guns.” The story’s chronology isn’t straightforward, but flashbacks offer a contrast between Siv Eng’s earlier days and her later ordeal.”
“A harrowing tale of survival and escape.” – Kirkus Reviews

One thought on “Kirkus Review

  1. Our book club read this book 310 days into our coronavirus quarantine. The traumatic experiences of Siv Eng brought our challenge with the pandemic into harsh perspective. I was in high school when the Khmer Rouge committed these horrible, horrible acts. I feel like my head was buried in the sand because I don’t remember hearing about these crimes. Heather Allen tells this difficult and complicated story beautifully. Hats off to her for a job very well done. I hope someday to meet Siv Eng and her mother.


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