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When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge

4.12  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,441 Ratings  ·  250 Reviews
In the Cambodian proverb, "when broken glass floats" is the time when evil triumphs over good. That time began in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia and the Him family began their trek through the hell of the "killing fields." In a mesmerizing story, Him vividly recounts a Cambodia where rudimentary labor camps are the norm and technology, such as cars and e ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published April 17th 2001 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2000)
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Aug 16, 2011 Christina rated it really liked it
Normally, I can't wait to get to bed. I can't wait to lie in bed and read. The house is quiet, the kids are asleep, the tv is off - just quality time with a book. But when reading this book, reading wasn't always pleasant. This is really not a book you read to to enjoy it or to be pulled into another world and explore it. I read this in part because my boyfriend recommended it, in part because we sponsor a child in Cambodia and in part because I didn't know much about the Khmer Rouge and wanted ...more
May 11, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it
In preparation for our trip to Cambodia and the Killing Fields near Phnom Penh I read three books: In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner, First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung, and When Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him. Each of the three books was about a young girl who, with their families, suffered under the Khmer Rouge communist regime and their genocide campaign.

The Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh, its last obstacle to ruling all of Cambodia, on April 17th, 1975. They turned t
Books Ring Mah Bell
Jun 03, 2008 Books Ring Mah Bell rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memo-auto-bio
This book is so depressing it would make Pollyanna eat a gun.

However, it was incredibly powerful and moving. I put the book down a few times, refusing to pick it up again. I skimmed some of the more awful parts (3 year old brother dying, pregnant woman being slaughtered) and was rewarded with one simple thing: this woman survives and comes out tough and compassionate. She manages to rise above where others crumble...

May 16, 2013 Lena rated it it was ok
I think people are generally reluctant to give this book a low rating due to it's subject matter. Seeing as how the author actually experienced the atrocities she described it would be a pretty low blow to critique a book that is essentially her story as she experienced it.
However it needs to be said that the writing was pretty juvenile. The dialogue is really stilted and the characters were pretty undeveloped. A really complex situation was pretty much boiled down to bad guys vs good guys with
Jan 29, 2008 Stephpin rated it it was amazing
I was pretty clueless about the Cambodian genocide under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. We were headed to Cambodia a few years ago and a friend suggested this book. Don't read this book in public. I wept like a baby when I read of the torture and loss of this sweet little girl. She is actually close to my age and has lived many lives. I came away from this book not only educated, but grateful, sad, disgusted and amazed at the will to live. God does hear our prayers. Chanrithy writes with such powe ...more
Sep 14, 2009 Cameron rated it really liked it
Shelves: cambodia
This turned out to be one of the very best personal accounts of survival during the Pol Pot Regime. I've read eight others, mostly by women who were children or in their early teens at the time. Chanrithy Him's prose is smooth and engrossing--after the first chapter, which was hard to get through, full of angry bitterness over her experiences; perfectly understandable, but it doesn't draw the reader in, just establishes a barrier. After this, however, she warms up to her subject and paints a vib ...more
Apr 17, 2013 Caroline rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
The Khmer Rouge seizure of Cambodia in 1975 began a period of horrific cruelty and death. Pol Pot's regime evacuated families from Phnom Penh, forcing them into the countryside into forced labor camps and makeshift villages where they were starved, beaten and more often than not executed for even the smallest disobedience. The author was 10 years old when her world violently fell apart, beginning the execution of her father. Before she was even 16, her mother was thrown into a well and she had l ...more
Sep 01, 2012 Jessica rated it really liked it
This book started off slow but really picked up. Chanrithy's riveting account of surviving the killing fields of Cambodia and living under the Khmer Rouge kept me turning the pages, holding my breath, and praying that every person in her family makes it out alive. Sadly this is not the case. Throughout her story she loses her father, mother and half her siblings through awful circumstances. The Him family is driven from their home, starved, forced into hard labor camps that benefits the Khmer. L ...more
Jul 12, 2010 Tina rated it it was amazing
It's difficult to write a review for this book as the subject matter moves me almost beyond words. I've visited Cambodia twice now; seen firsthand the devastation that the Khmer Rouge left on this country. I've walked the killing fields, seen the sunken pits (newly exhumed mass graves), the execution trees, the piles of bones and skulls. I've heard personal stories of families affected by the KR--what devastation and destruction that part of history brought an entire culture. It's a part of hist ...more
Aug 25, 2009 Erin rated it really liked it
I've been on a reading kick of refugee/war/holocaust surveyors that are still inspiring. This is the third book I've read in about four days on this topic. What I never realized was how modern parts of Cambodia were before the Khmer Rouge took over. These people were just like us.

When Thy talks about having to wade into a river the first time in order to fish for food, she talks about how squeamish she was. For the longest time, they kept thinking that things were going to go back to normal. It
Apr 20, 2011 Tyson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a difficult book to read. Not because the reading was challenging but because the subject matter was emotionally jarring. It is hard to imagine anyone having to go through everything that the author did. It is also easy to imagine people that are currently suffering similar situations around the world. The good news is that the author and most of her family came out of the ordeal with a much better life. It is inspiring and depressing.

A first hand account of life under the Khmer Rouge.
Nov 16, 2015 Julia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: autobiography
This is the heartbreaking and gut-wrenching account of a young girl living in a Cambodian city in the late 60's when the Khmer Rouge took power under the leadership of Pol Pot. He and his regime orchastrated the Cambodian genocide. They ruled from 1975-1979 and allied with North Vietnam and the The Viet Cong. The US also had a hand in the deaths of nearly 2 million Cambodians, during the "Killing Fields" era.

The author, Him recounts her life as a 9 year old, being moved from one awful refugee ca
Gigi Blanchard
Jul 14, 2015 Gigi Blanchard rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
I bought this and one other book (First They Killed My Father) to take with me while backpacking Cambodia. It's a great way to learn about what took place there in the 70's which continues to haunt the landscape today (you won't see very many old people and several farmers who've lost limbs to land mines are left to beg in city centers--Us being responsible for many of those land mines) . Phnom Penh's tourist attractions revolve around the atrocities inflicted by the khmer rouge, which is the re ...more
Jan 14, 2015 Nshslibrary rated it it was amazing
"To spare you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss."

Genocide, a notorious word coined after the holocaust, is currently a widely atrocious crime that has occurred in many countries. Being one of the few countries to experience genocide, Cambodia is left with an unpleasant history of mass murder, severe oppression and a memoir through the lenses of Chanrithy Him. The author recounts an odyssey where she experiences the loss of her home and the death of seven family members under a totalitaria
Jul 13, 2013 Jen rated it it was amazing
Brutal. Just brutal. Couldn't do justice to even try to define the astonishing display of resilience demonstrated by Thy, her siblings, and basically anyone who survived the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. Exquisitely sad, yet oddly uplifting, my only complaint was a desire for it to last longer and contain more details of Thy's post-Cambodian life. A definite tear jerker, but perspective building at its grandest level. A must read for anyone unfamiliar with this part of history.
Apr 05, 2009 Jeanne rated it really liked it
This is a memoir written by a woman who grew up (age 9-16) during the years the Khmer Rouge came to power and ruled Cambodia. It was not as gruesome as I feared it might be given the subject. It is the story of her and her family's experiences, and it certainly describes the suffering and tragedies that befall them, but it's also about survival, the human spirit and the ties that bind families to endure hardships I still can't imagine having the strength to endure.
Dawn Lennon
Oct 12, 2015 Dawn Lennon rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Times goes on and so does war. In the late 1970's it was the efforts of Cambodian families (mostly its surviving women and children) to escape the killing and enslavement brought about by the Khmer Rouge. This memoir, written through the eyes of a girl during her childhood, is a disturbing snapshot of what it was like for kids to survive fear, starvation, sickness, death, labor camps, loss, isolation, and confusion as they were moved from place to place, treated as no better than work tools, whi ...more
Apr 19, 2012 Patricia rated it really liked it
Amazing, life-changing, historical fiction. Cambodia, Khmer Rouge, and it's impact on ordinary citizens. I felt like I was experiencing the pain, and the numbness of their lives, it was that well-written. What a contrast to my American experience.
Jun 02, 2009 Asher added it
Interesting story that would probably be harrowing if it didn't read like the world's most depressing med school essay. And what's this "when broken glass floats"? Let me show you what happens "when elephants gag".
May 08, 2014 Christina rated it really liked it
This was a brutal book to read, but I still think it's an important one to read. The horrifying suffering of the Cambodian people under the Khmer Rouge is brought to light in this memoir by Chanrithy Him. She was only a child during the occupation, and yet her memory is incredible as she recalls, in painful detail, the plight of her family. I found the ending to be a bit dry and definitely the hardest part of the book to get through. I am glad I read this b/c I feel like this part of history was ...more
Sep 10, 2015 Chrystal rated it it was amazing
When opening up a book about a first-hand account of growing up in the Killing Fields of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, one is prepared to read about war, death, suffering, loss and despair. What one is not always expecting are also moments of friendship, generosity, self-sacrifice, and family unity. Chanrithy Him gives a fair account of all of these experiences which she lived through from the age of about 6 to 16. Basically she grew up in an unimaginable hell. She honestly narrates all the lo ...more
Jan 23, 2015 Nancy rated it really liked it
Very difficult reading at times, not from poor writing but because of the unimaginable horror described. Reading made me short tempered to those around me and I had the guilty luxury to process in a matter of days the tragedy this author lived for so many years without even hope to buoy her spirits. While it is extremely difficult to provide an objective review of the writing when the content is so horrendous and gripping, it suffices to say that I noticed only a nice balance between the cruel h ...more
Devika Koppikar
Jan 06, 2012 Devika Koppikar rated it really liked it
I liked this book. However, as it gives a detailed account of life in labor camps and under oppressive conditions, it is a difficult and sad read. With books like these, I tend to put myself in the middle of the story – so it was hard to be under the Khmer Rouge and their long, oppressive days in the fields. Some highlights of the book that left an impression on my mind:

• Him’s life before the Khmer Rouge – and how her family lived an upper-middle class life in Cambodia.
• How the family was pus
Oct 24, 2012 Hud-c rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Hud-c by: Polsci Professor
Initially, I read this to fulfill my requirements for an elective in college. It was recommended by my professor since our class tackles the political structure and history of South East Asian Countries and i prefer to review a book that focuses on the country of Cambodia.

This was an emotional read. It pertains to genocide during the Khmer Rouge. The depiction of what the author and her family went through was really horrible. And considering that this really happened, it makes you question the
May 13, 2013 Keri rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2013
A little conflicted reviewing this one. There is simply no way to give it poor marks because the story is so heart wrenching. I can't even imagine the cruelty and uncertainty these people suffered at the hands of this evil 'government'. I also learned so much about this era of history that I had simply no idea about! The strength and will of this young girl and family is just incredible. I was so moved by her courage and the generosity of so many people who were helpers. It is shocking that such ...more
Andrew Som
Sep 18, 2012 Andrew Som rated it really liked it
When Broken Glass Floats is a touching story about a young Cambodian girl's journey from darkness to the liberty's of America. It has some disturbing scenes that you thought would never happen to a human being. It opens your eyes to the broader and harsher side of humanity and also the story has touching moments that really get to your heart. I gave this book 4 out of 5 mainly because of the writing style and some of it was kind of simple and hard to understand at some points. Overall the plot w ...more
Eileen Souza
Jan 05, 2010 Eileen Souza rated it really liked it
A very interesting book on a subject (the Khmer Rouge) that I was not familiar with until recently.

This is the story/memoir of Chanrithy (Artee) Him, who grew up as a child during the time of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and who was later granted asylum in the US. Today she works on a government funded research project of post traumatic stress syndrome for children who have lived in war time.

The story itself was horrifying, and real. She did not leave out parts - even of her own poor judgements
Missy J
Apr 20, 2012 Missy J rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everybody
Shelves: 2012-books
"Chea, how come good doesn't win over evil? Why did the Khmer Rouge win if they are bad people?"

Chea answered: "Loss will be God's, victory will be the devil's." When good appears to lose, it is an opportunity for one to be patient, and become like God. "But not very long, p'yoon srey [younger sister]," she explained, and referred to a Cambodian proverb about what happens when good and evil are thrown together into the river of life. Good is symbolized by klok, a type of squash, and evil by armb
Sep 07, 2013 Kari rated it really liked it
In 2007 I had the opportunity to visit Asia, one of the countries being Cambodia. I was shocked to learn of the genocide that took place there. It wasn't something of the past; it ended 3-4 years before I was born. Our tour guide explained things with tears in his eyes. He had lived through it, suffered, and lost his family.
Cambodia today is a country of dirt roads and handcarts. Their economy has not recovered and due to the Khmer Rouge killing everyone with any education their children are un
May 06, 2012 Patrick rated it really liked it
A heart rending biography. An astonishing, startling story of survival that underscores how fragile life is. A latter-day 'animal farm' but perhaps even more extreme.

A coup by a Maoist regime overthrows the Cambodian government- that is already weakened as a consequence the West's (Nixon's) clandestine military incursions across the boarder in the Vietnam conflict. A cultural revolution ensues. The historic slate is wiped clean and life is re-calibrated from 'year zero'. Chanrithy recounts a li
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Born in Takeo Province and now lives in Portland, Oregon, Chanrithy Him is a child survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide. She is an international speaker, Human Rights activist and author of the widely acclaimed, award-winning memoir, "When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge" (Norton).

In 2004 she received a personal thank-you letter from Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
More about Chanrithy Him...

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“A woman isn’t just married to her husband, but to his whole family” 2 likes
“The cost of war is a lifelong legacy borne by children.” 2 likes
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