By Edward Tick
“This is too much! It seems like I just get over one crisis and another occurs. I need to piece my soul together.” So blurted author Sieu Sean Do’s mother after the family’s harrowing and narrow escape into Viet Nam from the Khmer Rouge genocide in their native Cambodia. Sieu Sean’s memoir of the family’s journey from an idyllic childhood in rural Cambodia through the hell of the Killing Fields is his work through witnessing and storytelling to piece his soul together.
Sieu’s narrative of the family’s long ordeal is largely straightforward. He was a child and teenager during these ordeals, so we see them through the innocent boy’s eyes. The narrative piles incident upon incident as challenges, crises, betrayals, disappointments, abandonments, starvation, crimes, executions, and accidental deaths cascade not only upon this family, but all of Cambodia. Yet the story takes us to Cambodian traditions and intimately into his large extended family that, miraculously, survived together. As he summarizes at the end, “Our elders taught us well that we need to survive not just alone, but together.” Thus, as readers we have close encounters not just with the horrors of genocide, but the intimacies of a traditional Cambodian family and many traditional practices and folk tales that surround and support the survivors in their ordeals.