4 out of 4 stars
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While the vast majority of people have heard of the Holocaust, many are unaware that there was a Cambodian Holocaust that took place from 1975-1979. The infamous Khmer Rouge was a communist regime responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodian people, although the actual number could be much greater. In Starving Season, Seang M. Seng, M.D. documents his own unlikely survival of the Cambodian genocide.
The memoir reveals Seng's experience inside the “killing fields," the term captives used to reference the labor camps they were forced into. After a mandatory evacuation from their homes, Seng and his family of twenty-four were moved from several transitional camps, gradually losing their precious few belongings. Everyone was obligated to work in the camps, including small children, the disabled, and the elderly. The laborers were rationed small bowls of rice that consisted almost entirely of water. Unable to sustain on these rations, starvation began to claim lives rapidly. In Seng's family, his infant niece was the first to perish. One by one, Seng's family members were lost to starvation, but Seng would have a different fate. He employed strategy to gain access to jobs that would provide him, and his remaining family, additional sustenance. He performed tasks outside his regular workload to gain the favor of various Khmer Rouge authorities. By doing so, Seng was able to prolong the deaths of a few of his family members, though ultimately, Seng would be the only survivor of the original twenty-four members.
This book commanded my attention immediately, as it starts at the time the Khmer came to power and began evacuating the cities into labor camps. The author does a remarkable job of maintaining an emotional distance from the events of his memory. What I found most poignant was how the author slowly came to realize the gravity of the situation and the inhumanity of the Khmer Rouge. As the regime streamlined their operations, their cruelty became increasingly transparent. The book is heartbreaking for its content, and I found myself especially mourning the suffering of children.
If I were to offer any areas for improvement, I would suggest another run-through in editing, as there were some minor areas needing attention. Another part that stuck out to me was the collection of photographs at the end of chapter five. I greatly appreciated the visuals, but felt there was something awkward about their placement. Some of the photographs pertained to information and people the author had yet to discuss. I also noticed a few occasions in which details were unnecessarily repeated.
Being a historical non-fiction enthusiast, I feel this book was put together nicely and was extremely eye-opening. I have much respect for the author and will not soon forget his bravery in reliving his experiences so as to share them with the world. I have rated this book 4 out of 4 stars.
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