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Surviving The Killing Fields: The Cambodian Odyssey Of Haing S. Ngor

4.51  ·  Rating details ·  2,757 ratings  ·  232 reviews
"He became famous through his academy award-winning performance as Dith Pran in the film The Killing Fields, but the key to Haing Ngor's screen success was the terrible truth of his own experiences in the rice paddies and labor camps of revolutionary Cambodia."

Here, in a gripping memoir of life under the communist Khmer Rouge regime, he reveals the country's descent into a
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Paperback, 504 pages
Published 1989 by Pan Books Ltd. (first published 1988)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
A Cambodian Odyssey = Survival in the Killing Fields, Haing Ngor

Here, in his memoir of life under the Khmer Rouge, is a searing account of a country's descent into hell. His was a world of war slaves and execution squads, of senseless brutality and mind-numbing torture; where families ceased to be and only a very special love could soar above the squalor, starvation and disease. An eyewitness account of the real killing fields by an extraordinary survivor, this book is a reminder of the horrors
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Mariel
Aug 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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Alex
Apr 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, asia
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
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Steven Godin

"The Khmer Rouge wanted a complete change of society, from the top to the bottom. Gone was everything that had governed our lives in the old times. Lon Nol was gone, airlifted to America before the fall; Sihanouk was gone, his fate a mystery. The monks were gone. ("The monks were bloodsucking imperialists. If any worker secretly takes rice to the monks, we shall set him to plant cabbages. If the cabbages are not full-grown in three days, he will dig his own grave.") The families were broken up,
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Mikey B.
This is a harrowing read. In this autobiography we get an in depth and very personal feel of life in Cambodia under Sihanouk, Lon Nol, and then the Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge upended everything in Cambodian society. They started - as they said – from Year Zero. Normal life was destroyed and the cities emptied. The author could not even wear his glasses for fear of being labelled as a bourgeois and being executed or at the very least of being imprisoned. He was a doctor but never admitted to thi
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Adele McVay
Apr 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Breanna Chov
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I grew of hearing just glimpses of my Dad’s family’s life before immigrating to the United States. Much of their stories seemed too unreal to believe.

This book gave a bigger picture for what the Cambodian people and my family endured. It is captivating, well written, and honest. There were times where I had to choose either to take a break from the book, skim read past the unspeakable cruelties of the Khmer Rouge, or buckle down and choose to read about the real experiences of Haing Nor and oth
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Jessica
May 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Noah
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
Bexy
Sep 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Michael
Feb 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Nick
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jo
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Survival at the Killing Fields is an account by a rational, honest man, of his time living under one of the most brutal and pointless regimes in history, the Khmer Rouge. If the descriptions of torture in Khmer Rouge prisons, which the author survived 3 times, are chilling, it's the loss of his wife that brings you to tears. The sheer hopelessness of a doctor being unable to save his wife because the regime virtually abolished medicine is only one of many situations that exposes the stupidity an ...more
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
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Iris
Aug 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
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
SethGyan
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This isn't just a reminder of how evil communism is but also a love story that holds the narrative even till the murder of the author. The love story of Haing and Huoy.

Life's tragic and for Haing Ngor it was all the more; even after surviving being under the Kmer Rouge and becoming a movie star, he still couldn't shake of the pain and tragedy of loosing Huoy and everyone he loved. He was depressed even till the end.

And the biggest irony is that he died a rough death whiles Pol Pot who engineer
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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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Carys
Sep 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, indochina
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
...more
Michael
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
Avi
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
Jill
Mar 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Diz
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very powerful book. Haing Ngor tells the story of his survival of the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the late 70s. It's hard to imagine the brutality and inhumanity that he describes. If you read this book, be prepared to cry a little. I feel it is important to remember stories such as this in order to remind ourself how demonizing others can lead to some very dark outcomes. ...more
Tom
Feb 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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.
...more
Judi
May 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian-history, memoir
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.
Lesley
This is about what happened in Cambodia in the 1970's. This is excruciatingly violent with the brutal yet casual executions of innocent people. This genocide was evil! Its humbling to read of such suffering but yet overcome with the love this man had the human spirit. ...more
Natalie Camp
Mar 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Bettie
Nov 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: film-only
The helicopter scene was filmed just down the road from my hotel in Cha-am.

Another one of those that cannot be graded by stars.
Ros
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An extremely well-written account of a horrific time in history.
Nick
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, military
An amazing account of the killing fields of Cambodia during the 1970's. Really worth reading. ...more
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