When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge
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When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  1,864 ratings  ·  221 reviews

Chanrithy Him felt compelled to tell of surviving life under the Khmer
Rouge in a way "worthy of the suffering which I endured as a child."

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 fiel...more
Kindle Edition, 340 pages
Published (first published 2000)
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Christina
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
Sarah
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...more
Books Ring Mah Bell
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...

Lena
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...more
Stephpin
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
Cmacauley
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
Caroline
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
Tina
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
Erin
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...more
Tyson
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....more
Jen
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.
Jeanne
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.
Patricia
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.
Asher
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".
Christina
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
Nancy
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
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...more
Hud-c
Oct 24, 2012 Hud-c rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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...more
Jessica
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
Keri
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
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
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...more
Miss J
Apr 20, 2012 Miss J rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Kari
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...more
Patrick
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...more
Sophie Zapoli
At times hard to read, at times inspiring When Broken Glass Floats is a heartbreaking story, one of the best literature to have come out of the Khmer Rouge. The present tense of this unforgettable memoir combined with the vivid memories of the author created a horrifying atmosphere in all its details around me throughout the reading, making me jump at unexpected sounds like they were the bombs that sent Cambodia's people fleeing and cherishing every grain of rice on my plate wishing I could have...more
Christina
This is the true life horror story of growing up under the regime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I traveled to Cambodia last year and came across this book while traveling there and it really put into perspective what the people there have overcome. In the 1970s a dictator-like regime took over and killed over one million of their own people. The goal of this political party was to take the Cambodians back to an agrarian society without modern technology, education, etc. To achieve this goal th...more
LemonLinda
This book is a first hand horrifying account of what happened in Cambodia during the time of control under the Khmer Rouge. During that time both of Him's parents and 5 siblings were either killed by the Khmer Rouge or died because of such a weakened state due to lack of nourishment and torturous living and working conditions. Her determination for survival and that of her siblings that did make it out of Cambodia is inspirational. This book is a testimony to the human spirit and what can be end...more
Steven
I have a theory, Well not so much a theory as a baseless idea. We somehow feel better about our lives when we read of the horror of others lives. This book was hard to read for many reasons and It is awful that I somehow place my feelings in front of the friends I have known that have lived through or with the history of the Khmer Rouge. I think of all the refugees from all the different parts of the world as they came to my home in the projects. It's where all the people with nothing tended to...more
Heidi
I actually liked this book quite a bit. I fully admit to knowing almost nothing about Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge or even the part that America played in the collapse of the country. And, after reading this book - I could still say that I don't know much about the politics in Cambodia in the 1970's. However, this book is not a history of what happened - it is a book about the story of one family and how they survived (or in some cases, didn't) the horrific brutality and depravity of the Khmer Roug...more
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