If I didn’t know the horrible truth, I might have thought McCormick had gone overboard with the horror and tragedy in this story. I sometimes find myself asking, as I read, “How much can possibly happen to one character?” In this case, though, I knew that the novel was based on the true life story of a boy named Arn Chorn-Pond. This novel was only fictional inasmuch as Arn couldn’t possibly recall every detail of every day and every conversation he had over the course of 4 years. The sad reality is that the general timeline and events of this story truly happened to him, to his family, and to his country.
It still boggles my mind to think of how much devastation the Khmer Rouge wrought on Cambodia, especially since people rarely speak of it. How does a militant political group wipe out nearly 2 million people in just under 4 years without getting more than a footnote in many high school world history classes? People talk about the Holocaust and vow to never let something like that ever happen again, but they make no mention of Pol Pot’s reign of terror or the many genocides [some still taking place!] in African countries since the 1940s. It’s disgusting how often these events will go unmentioned just because it’s easier *not* to talk about it, and I applaud Patricia McCormick for writing this book.
I hope this story will help bring more attention to both the unfortunate history of Cambodia and to the subsequent efforts Arn Chorn-Pond has made to help other “children of war” and to keep Cambodian culture alive. For a historical overview of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, check out the Historical Overview of the Khmer Rouge at the Cambodia Tribunal Monitor. To learn more about the humanitarian organizations Arn Chorn-Pond founded in response to his experiences as a child in war-torn Cambodia, visit the websites for Children of War and the Cambodian Livings Arts.