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Survival in the Killing Fields

4.44 of 5 stars 4.44  ·  rating details  ·  1,289 ratings  ·  129 reviews
Best known for his academy award-winning role as Dith Pran in The Killing Fields, for Haing Ngor his greatest performance was not in Hollywood but in war-torn Cambodia. Here, in his memoir of life under the Khmer Rouge, is a searing account of a country's descent into hell.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 13th 2003 by Robinson Publishing (first published 1988)
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Aug 16, 2011 Mariel rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ruby, don't take your love to town
Recommended to Mariel by: one of the classic blunders
Kum. Kum is a Cambodian word for a particularly Cambodian mentality of revenge- to be precise, a long-standing grudge leading to revenge much more damaging than the original injury. If I hit you with my fist and you wait five years and then shoot me in the back one dark night, that is kum.

Kum-monuss. Ngor took the word for revenge and paired it with the word for people, monuss. "Revenge people." That's what they are, communist at the top and kum-monuss at the bottom.

Why did the Cambodian people
I think I can sum up the lessons of this book with a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon.

For the first half or so, I thought I had a handle on it. I've read Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, which details what the Chinese suffered through under Mao and the Cultural Revolution; since the Khmer Rouge borrowed a lot of ideas from Mao, this was a story I was familiar with.

Then it got bad.

When you've just read 200 pages of people being harnessed like oxen to ploughs and whipped on until the
In a word, harrowing.
I visited the Killing Fields in the outskirts of Phnom Penh about seven years ago and it too is a harrowing place to see the results of what some Cambodians did so violently to other Cambodians. Unfortunately at the time of my visit I did not have the excellent historical background that Haing Ngor provides us with as he brings together the events of the past, internal political factions and the superpowers and their game-plays that simply overwhelms a whole population and
The hardest book I have ever read, not because of the concepts or language (Roger Warner arranged Haing Ngor's halting English into a narrative that flows), but because of what happens. That includes a handful of Holocaust memoirs. Ngor survived three sessions in Khmer Rouge jails, and before the book recounts each of them it warns sensitive readers to skip what follows--and that is after the harrowing accounts of excruciating work, starvation and the casual execution of Ngor's relatives. The Kh ...more
This is a amazing book. Powerful. It will help you appreciate how good your life is, and show you how horrible it could be. People can be such monsters. The things some people are capable of doing is just mind blowing to me. This is a very sad and disturbing story of Haing Ngor's survival during the Pol Pot communist regime take over in Cambodia in the 70's.(1975-1979) This book enraged me. But I couldn't put it down. I highly recommend this book to anyone that thinks they have a tough life. Any ...more
A riveting read...'a must'. It's exceptionally well written account of the realities of life under the Khmer Rouge. Whilst the reading material may be hard for some, for anyone familiar with the atrocities that go along with brutal occupation and genocide the content is, sadly, not surprising. The book is also underpinned by love, hope and the human ability (or super ability in Haing's case) to survive - making this book a 'journey' that will stay with you.
Natalie Camp
This book is sooo crazy and takes you into a very depressed state of mind all through out it but such a good description of what was happening then. This is an AMAZING and heart wrenching book
One of the hardest, saddest books I have ever read. It is extremely graphic; nevertheless, I'll never see the world the same way again.
Andrew Rosner
A tragic but ultimately very human story. In many ways Ngor's story is even more horrific than that of Dith Pran, who Ngor played in the movie "The Killing Fields." That Ngor was able to survive not only the depredations that every Cambodian faced during that terrible time, but three separate imprisonments during which he was brutally tortured speaks to his sheer force of will and desire to live. But it's more than just his personal story. Ngor was a keen observer of Cambodian culture and the po ...more
Searing. Powerful. Unforgettable.

I recently decided that I wanted to learn about Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, and the killing fields, especially because I plan on traveling there later on in life. I borrowed about 10 books from my library, and made it halfway through about 3 of them before I read this one. While those previous books were powerful, I found them to either be too hands-off, more interested in politics or explanations rooted in the nature of man, rather than the humanity and tragedy
Harry Rutherford
Survival in the Killing Fields is my book from Cambodia for the Read The World challenge. Haing Ngor was a doctor in pre-revolutionary Phnom Penh. That alone was enough to make him a target for the Khmer Rouge, but he managed to survive their regime through lies, determination, judgement and blind luck. Later he made it to America, was cast in the film The Killing Fields , and won an Oscar for best supporting actor.

Which is a remarkable story, and superficially one of the triumph of the human s
After rereading this, I have decided for sure that it is my favorite book. It is the most disturbing, violent, and heart wrenching story I have ever heard. It is disgusting in parts, so when it warns the readers to skip ahead if you are faint-hearted, take the advice seriously. Haing Ngor started out in poverty, made it to the status of an upper middle class doctor, only to lose it all in the awful Khmer Rouge regime. This book records Haing Ngor's survival of the Cambodian Genocide against all ...more
Adele McVay
I read this book a long time ago, so this is not going to be an in depth review, instead it's a reflection on the impact it had on me.

I remember aged 21 working in an office and coming across this book, in tattered form. No one else in the office claimed it as theirs, but one guy had read it and recommended it to me. It wasn't the kind of book I would normally have been attracted to at that age. I was not shallow, but not the deepest of people either.

This book opened my eyes and made me mature
This had to be the most tragic book I've ever read about the Khmer Rouge and what they did to their own people. The chapters of his times in prison are what haunted me the most. That the book warns sensitive readers to skip those parts should say enough about the horrors he had to live through.
When Ngor is not in prison, he has to watch his family get ripped apart through the random executions, which made the Khmer Rouge so feared. Being a doctor only makes it worse for him, I believe, as he is
This is one of those books that stays with you long after you read it. I finished it this past week and have thought about it several times a day since. Very well-written and incredibly thought provoking. I was blown away by this autobiography and the resiliency of the human spirit. A great read for anyone who doesn't know much about the genocide in Cambodia. I am going there in the next month for a visit and I have a greater appreciation for the culture and the events that have shaped the count ...more
Ngor's story of his experiences in Cambodia before, during, and after the Khmer Rouge takeover in the late 1970's. Absolutely gripping and often emotionally trying. I usually do my best to avoid violent scenes in books and movies because they just play over and over in my head, but I found myself feeling awful skipping the gory parts (he warns you when they're coming). How can I claim discomfort at just reading about them when millions actually suffered through those horrendous crimes. I didn't ...more
Alisha Holdbrook
This book helped me understand the recent history of Cambodia through the eyes of one man that survived. I knew nothing about Cambodias history before reading it, and I think the author did a great job of explaining it in the most condensed way he could. The story is extremely sad, and yet inspiring. I read it right before traveling to Cambodia, which definitely helped me understand their culture and the people better. it also helped me have many conversations with Cambodians that I otherwise wo ...more
Chris Cusick
A chilling first-hand account from a survivor of the Khmer Rouge atrocities. Haing Ngor is an awkward, unlikely hero of sorts, and I spent large parts of the book struggling to overcome his arrogance. But this isn't fiction, and from the epilogue it would appear that the account of Ngor's imperfect, frustrating nature was itself a work of perfection. The book is a real eye-opener, bringing you hauntingly close to the events of the late 1970s that rocked this previously peaceful country, and does ...more
JoséMaría BlancoWhite
A Cambodian citizen under Pol Pot's communist regime

This is the closest picture to hell I have ever read or heard about. This cambodian civil war (war between fellow-citizens) is nothing short of the ideal governance of a country by Satan himself. The amazing thing about this book is actually not the story itself but the fact that it is so well narrated by an eyewitness civilian, who besides, survives three episodes of torture among many other miseries. It is so naturally and realistically told
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Korea is often termed the 'forgotten war' in comparison to the events of Vietnam, but it is Cambodia which was a truly forgotten country during the Cold War era. And while the efforts of New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg, Dith Pran and the film The Killing Fields did much to bring to light the political turmoil within which Cambodia found itself embroiled in the 1970s, this memoir by Haing Ngor (who played Pran in the film) is the definitive, harrowing account of life under the brutal Khm ...more

This book is just terrifyingly sad, but necessary. Note that when Ngor gives one of his caveats that he is about to tell you something really, really terrible, he is NOT FIDDLE FUCKING AROUND. He means it. He's about to lay some seriously terrible shit on you. And it will haunt you.
I bought this book last December, just before my plane boarded to Manila (in Cambodia at the moment). Seeing this book in the front, I just picked it uo quickly and paid. I must say, I did the right decision.

This book was set back in the dark times of Cambodia, where Bonjour was present and war was beginning to rage. Haing Ngor did a fine job in discussing the culture of the Cambodians and how the citizens reacted to the war, how the people could be easily manipulated, how racism was scattered
I read this book on the heels of Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. This book certainly fleshes out the massacre in Cambodia during the years of conflict in Southeast Asia. It serves to flesh out the greed, hate, fear, cruelty common to all wars.
Considering the events that occurred during this event in Cambodia, Ngor's story was very compelling. From his life in the country's capital to the countryside hiding for his life, the gruesome details made his story come to life. His story being full of very precise details of his struggles and what was expected of peasant-like Cambodian helped his story to become more understandable to me. He helped to prove that reality is not necessarily nice to everyone. Ngor's story eventually led to his f ...more
Amazingly powerful book about a doctor during the Khmer Rouge Regime in Cambodia. The images of this book have stayed with me a long time, even though I read it sometime ago.
John Dobbin
This is a very well written account of one educated man's survival, against all odds, under the psychopathic rule of the Khmer Rouge. It is not for the faint-hearted. He survived three gruesome torture episodes, which are fully described in their gory detail - babies ripped out of living mothers bellies, that type of thing.

If you have seen the film (The Killing Fields) in which Haing played a leading role, then know that it is a highly sanitised version of accounts; the Khmer Rouge were truly lu
I knew little of the details of the Khmer Rouge atrocities and Cambodian genocide until I visited Cambodia recently. The trip to the Killing Fields and Tuol Seng prison inspired me to read more about this awful period in Cambodia's history which still has noticeable effects on the prosperity of that country to this day. I read several other autobiographies, then watched the 1984 movie "The Killing Fields" with Sam Waterston, John Malkovich and Haing Ngor. One of the bonus features included on th ...more
Lauren Hopkins
This is the enlightening memoir of Haing Ngor, who survived the four year Khmer Rouge occupation, escaped as a refugee to Thailand and then the US, and earned an Academy Award for his work in the film "The Killing Fields" based on the relationship between a journalist from the west and his Cambodian translator/assistant during the war. Ithink this is one of the best war memoirs ever written, but I hesitate to truly get behind it because the author paints himself in an angelic light even though m ...more
Eastern Lit
Over the years I have read a fair few autobiographies of survivors of the Pol Pot regime, yet this is the only one which still haunts me to this day.

This book definitely isn’t for the faint hearted. It’s heartbreaking and horrowing. There are graphic descriptions of torture and murder, of disease and starvation, of crimes against humanity both within the Khmer Rouge and outside (including the rape of women by Thai soldiers as they try and escape Cambodia, and the mass killing of Cambodian refuge
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“I told the others which trees to chop, where to get the mud, even though I was not the official leader. My father used to say, ‘Thing like a boss, not like a worker.’ He meant that it is better to use your brain and be active than to be sullen and passive, as most workers are. I worked harder than anyone in the crew because it kept my mind sharp and because it kept me from thinking about other things.” 2 likes
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