4 out of 4 stars
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From 1975 to 1979, the communist Khmer Rouge government took over the country of Cambodia, bringing with it the mass murder, starvation, and disease of more than two million people. In an effort to create a socially engineered communist society based on agrarianism, the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot attempted to cleanse the country of city dwellers, the educated, doctors, teachers, civil servants, and religious leaders.
Citizens were stripped of all of their possessions and Pol Pot’s government began controlling every aspect of the people’s lives. Money, jewelry, private property, books, and religion were outlawed. Parents and their children were separated to work on farms or recruited to fight with the Khmer Rouge. Those that spoke out or resisted were sent to prison or killed immediately by brutal force.
Saving Nary by Carol DeMent is a story written during this time period of two Cambodian refugees and their transition from surviving the mass genocide of the Cambodian people to their move to asylum in the United States. Pra Chay, a Buddhist monk, and his brother Khath, a survivor of the dreaded S-21 death camp, end up in a refugee camp in Thailand. They are granted asylum and sent to the United States to start their new life. As they adapt to the customs of and language of their new life in the U.S., Khath is drawn to a young girl named Nary who reminds him of his missing daughters. Nary spent five years away from her parents working the fields in a youth camp and barely surviving the forced labor.
Khath is haunted by the brutal murder of his wife and son as they were forced to leave Pnom Penh. His two remaining daughters were separated from him and taken to the youth camps to work the fields. He vows to be reunited with them again somehow. When they arrive in the United States, Khath and Pra Chay enlist the help of a local priest to help them locate Kath’s missing daughters. But Khath is mentally scarred from being tortured in the death camp, a camp in which only seven people survived out of an estimated 20,000 people. Can Pra Chay help Khath find his way out of the depths of mental darkness so that he can be reunited with his daughters once again? Will they be able to adjust to this new life in the U.S.?
Carol DeMent brings the heart and soul of the Cambodian people to the pages of Saving Nary. I found myself turning page after page and becoming immersed in the heartbreak and suffering that the Cambodian people have endured. Ms. DeMent’s writing is poignant and raw, giving depth and emotion to each of her characters. Khath's character is so tragic that you can't help but feel like there has to be something better for him.
The author's story moves forward with just the right amount of ebb and flow, leading the reader's inner mind with rich and vivid images that are sometimes beautiful and sometimes terrifying. Every character has a purpose and the author has created a plot with plenty of tension and conflict to pull in the reader. I loved the relationship between Pra-Chay and Khath, each helping each other to figure out how to recover after living through such a travesty. The other characters in the book also had stories of survival to tell and Ms. Dement weaves an intricate web of storytelling by connecting their stories together to create a surprising and dramatic ending.
I felt that the cover art for the book did not really represent the heart of the story. Although the cover represents a beautiful image of Cambodia, I would have like to have seen something more aligned with the storyline of the book. The only other thing I would say is that I would have like to have seen the development of Mr. Sareth’s character brought out more fully. I felt that there was more of a story to tell in his character and that he didn't really get the fully rounded conclusion that he deserved.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. This was a beautifully written book, the kind that brings you to tears. The kind that you stay up late at night to get to the next chapter. It was a well-rounded story with rich characters, an engrossing plot, and an excellent ending. I would recommend this book to anyone.
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