In a harrowing but ultimately triumphant affirmation of the human spirit, celebrated Cambodian poet U Sam Oeur narrates his incredible life story, testifies to the horrors of genocide and shares his fervent prayers for peace and freedom through the process of democracy.Born in 1936 to a large and moderately prosperous farming family, Oeur spent his childhood herding waterIn a harrowing but ultimately triumphant affirmation of the human spirit, celebrated Cambodian poet U Sam Oeur narrates his incredible life story, testifies to the horrors of genocide and shares his fervent prayers for peace and freedom through the process of democracy.Born in 1936 to a large and moderately prosperous farming family, Oeur spent his childhood herding water buffalo and tending rice paddies in the lush Cambodian countryside. He was educated under the French colonial system and selected to attend California State University in Los Angeles. While in the United States, he awakened to the possibilities of the democratic ideal and went on to receive his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.Upon returning to Cambodia in 1968, Oeur married, became a captain in Lon Nol’s army, served in the National Assembly and was part of the Cambodian delegation to the United Nations. When Pol Pot assumed power in 1975, Oeur, having vowed to help establish democracy in Cambodia and unaware of the events ahead, elected to stay. Driven out of Phnom Phen with millions of the city’s residents, Oeur, along with his wife and son, miraculously survived the killing fields, feigning illiteracy and relying upon the skills he had learned as a child to endure six forced-labor camps over the next four years. Millions, however, died during the Khmer Rouge regime, including Oeur’s twin daughters.Crossing Three Wildernesses is a personal account of survival, an astute political analysis and a beautiful illustration of the Cambodian culture—its people, myths and traditions. In a world still plagued by genocide and terror, this remarkable memoir is a moving call to freedom and a passionate plea for peace.A devout Buddhist, U Sam Oeur is the author of the bilingual collection of poems Sacred Vows. He lives in Texas, where he continues to translate the poems of Walt Whitman into Khmer....
|Title||:||Crossing Three Wildernesses|
|Number of Pages||:||372 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
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Crossing Three Wildernesses Reviews
I picked up this book because I wanted to learn about Cambodia's recent history. The fact that it was written by a Cambodian who loves capitalism and democracy was an added benefit, because his perspective gave a clearer picture to what was happening in the various communist regimes. Sam Oeur's story is astonishing, particularly because he survived the violent Khmer Regime under Pol Pot. As a well-educated man and somewhat involved in politics as a promoter of capitalism during Prince Sihanouk's reign, he was in imminent danger as soon as the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975. Pol Pot was killing the minority groups, the leaders, and anyone with an education. His goal was to eliminate anyone who threatened his communist plans. In the process, one third of Cambodia's people were killed. However, Sam Oeur and his young family pretended to be farmers ("base people") and managed to stay alive as they were moved through a series of slave labor camps. They were often ill, always starving, and ever in danger of letting their true colors show. They were constantly being indoctrinated to work for the state and not for individual or family success. Sam's son was taught not to show affection to his parents, and was told that the state would take care of him. Sam's mother in law was accused of being a capitalist when she was found cooking a chicken for her family. Sam overheard young men in the work camp field boasting that they would kill their own mothers if their mothers proved to be enemies of the Khmer Regime's philosophy.U Sam Oeur's guiding passion throughout the entire book is the love of freedom and democracy. Most of the time it is just a dream. He travelled to America before and after Pol Pot and first learned about democracy here, but already America was drugging itself into the stupor of the sexual revolution and hippie movements. America's aid to Cambodia only resulted in corruption among the Cambodian leaders (a common theme whenever America gave aid to South Asia countries, Sam Oeur says). But since he had seen the grotesque results of communism in the flesh, Sam knew that even a stifled form of democracy was better. One of the best quotes from this book is:"In universities in America, France, and many other countries, intellectuals love to theorize about communism. If all you know about it is what you've read in books, communism can be made to sound like a utopia. But until you have lived under constant surveillance, until you have lived in fear of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, until you have lived in fear day and night, day after day, year after year, you don't know what it means to live under communism." p. 335When the Vietnamese ousted the Khmer Rouge after four years of mass killings by Pol Pot, they brought a tamer type of communism. They created a socialist society in which the government regulated everything, and all of Cambodia's profits (of which there were few in such a war-torn country) were shipped over to Vietnam. U Sam Ouer worked for the Vietnamese government until they found in his desk a poem that he had written in praise of democracy. Surprisingly, he only lost his job and was not killed as he expected to be, and as was still a common practice. He grew braver as a lone poet, reciting his poetry in bars and risking death, but he also began to suffer the effects of fried nerves and post traumatic stress. Eventually he was given the opportunity to escape to America, but still he fancied he heard the marching feet of the Khmer Regime coming to take him away.He attributes his survival to various spirits, gods, and guardian angels, who he mentions by name and in detail as if they are real people. In almost every chapter he is communicating in some way with "spirits" who tell him what is going to happen, or tell him where to go or what to do next. When he follows their lead, he ends up narrowly missing death. Other times, he or his wife would dream of some horrific spirit tormenting them with disease, and they would wake up and are deathly ill. Occasionally he mentions "God" or the "Supreme Being of the Universe" in his prayers. There were obviously demonic forces at work in the mass slaughter of the time, and there was an obvious divine salvation that appeared when Vietnam's forces were used to defeat the Khmer Rouge. God's hand was obviously and providentially protecting U Sam Oeur and his family. Yet the nation still has not discovered the true God of the universe, and seems to know nothing of Jesus Christ. The end of the book tried to be hopeful because U Sam Oeur was in America with his family and his son and grandsons, but the perspective of Cambodia was bleak. Their natural resources were destroyed by the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge, their government was corrupt and ill-using foreign aid, and small cottage industries were struggling to replace all that was stolen or destroyed during the communist regime. Sam mentioned at one point that Cambodians laugh while they talk about tragedies they have faced because they do not know how to express their emotion. It seems that the country is caught in a labyrinth and has never been able to get closure on all that happened. The leaders of the Khmer Rouge were not satisfactorily tried and punished. Instead, they seemed to live in peace until very recent years, when Pol Pot died of seemingly natural causes. It seems that the blood of innocent people is still crying out for justice, but justice was never dealt.
My first Khmer Rouge Survivor memoir in a while. Good narrative. U uses the approach of giving a good background about his life before the KR period, which is significant because he grows up, goes to school in the US and becomes a Cambodian diplomat and then military officer (under Lon Nol, whose forces the KR defeated to take power) all before the genocide. His experience then, while horrifying in its own right, is not the most severe of the memoirs I have read. This is a nice, albeit subtle, switch. What sticks with me from this book is the national history that U is able to provide about the political events leading up to and then following the Khmer Rouge period. His time as a student in the US during the late 60's obviously makes an impression on him as he carries the dream of bringing democracy to his country and develops a deep-seated ability to stand up for what he believes is right.
I just left Cambodia and I am sitting in the Korean airport trying to make the most of an 8 hour layover. My visit to Cambodia left me asking how and why the horrible things that took place during the Pol Pot regime could happen and why they were allowed to happen for so long. This book helped me understand the background and political situation leading up to the Khmer Rouge takeover. But I still don't understand how or why and I don't think anyone ever will.
I loved reading about the author's childhood in Cambodia and his seven-year experience as a atudent in the US. The saga of his family's survival during the Khmer Rouge years was heartbreaking. The entire story was captivating and told with an underlining sense of humor.