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A Cambodian Odyssey

4.47  ·  Rating details ·  1,982 Ratings  ·  175 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
Paperback, 478 pages
Published April 1st 1989 by Grand Central Publishing (first published 1988)
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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
Apr 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 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
Rebecca McNutt
The Killing Fields is a brilliant, exceptional film, but the story of the actor behind it is even more extraordinary. Haing Ngor played the role of Cambodian translator Dith Pran in the film, but in reality he had been the survivor of the same nightmarish conditions that happen in the film. trapped by a brutal and ruthless group in the 1970's, along with millions of other men, women and children, Ngor witnessed first-hand the Cambodian Holocaust that took place, and the sadism that his captors d ...more
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An extremely well-written account of a horrific time in history.
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.
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
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
Apr 26, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Chandra Carlson
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book will grab you and force you to think, to put yourself in the place of Haing Ngor, to feel real empathy and heartache. It gives you a true appreciation for the life you are currently living and to ponder the "There, but for the grace of God, go I." phrase that gets tossed about.
Having just returned from Cambodia, and growing up in the 60's & 70's, never realizing the horrors that were taking place during the exact same time I was sitting in my comfortable home living a normal, terr
Alisha Holdbrook
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book. WOW.

It is a nonfiction account of the massacres that took place in, and of the last days of a war-torn Cambodia, told as a memoir by a man who later miraculously went on to star in the film version of this book.

It never ever ceases to amaze me, the depths human depravity will take...the lengths people will go to for what? Is it power?? Hard to say, as an outsider like this.

I firmly believe this is one of those books we all should have in our Read pile. I urge you to give it a gande
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
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.
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.
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.
Bastian Greshake Tzovaras
Phew, I 'm not sure whether I can add much to the reviews that are already on Goodreads. It's another depressing and important book, full of violence and terror. It's very well written, the most horrifying chapters have appropriate warnings and you probably should read it anyhow.
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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.” 3 likes
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