Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick is a sparse and somber account of the Cambodian genocide in the late 1970s told from the perspective of a teenage boy, Arn Chorn-Pond.
It’s an immediate and straight-forward account told in his broken English, sometimes detailed and sometimes bare, like you’d expect from a child.
Citizens are rounded up and killed or forced into camps and Arn is forced into music and realizes it’s a way to survive. He’s eventually forced into service as a child soldier and later escapes to a refugee camp in Thailand. It’s brutal and the tactics seems non-sensical, which is about all I can make out after reading about the aims of the Khmer Rouge: Set up an agrarian-based society, keep out anything foreign, kill anyone with any form of education, knowledge or skill.
Their agricultural reform led to widespread famine.
Nevermind the genocide that killed anywhere from 1 to 3 million people, many found in more than 20,000 mass graves.
As brutal as the first half of the book is, it becomes a story of survival for Arn Chorn-Pond as he goes from camp prisoner to musician to child soldier to refugee to American adoptee. He had little or no help as he transitioned to American culture, something that’s hard enough for teenage adoptees today with all the counseling and preparation available, and without the horrors of genocide and guilt of being forced to kill as a child solider.
But it’s not all horror. Arn Chorn-Pond has gone on to become a humanitarian, founding multiple organizations and helping to preserve traditional Cambodian music and promote forgiveness and reconciliation.