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When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  3,049 Ratings  ·  290 Reviews
In a Cambodian proverb, when broken glass floats is the time when evil triumphs over good. That time began for the Him family in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia and they began their trek through the hell of the killing fields. In a heart-wrenching memoir, Chanrithy Him vividly tells of her childhood, growing up in a Cambodia where rudimentary labour camps ...more
Hardcover, 330 pages
Published April 10th 2000 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2000)
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June Wong I wondered too, but given their relationship with Him's brother-in-law, I somehow understand why she may be a little reserved about telling how they…moreI wondered too, but given their relationship with Him's brother-in-law, I somehow understand why she may be a little reserved about telling how they settled in America....(less)
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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 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 Lang
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
Aug 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Tuyen Tran
Mình biết đến cuốn hồi ký này từ lúc dự định đi Cambodia, và sau đó đọc, và sau đó đi. Như nhan đề, nó kể về cuộc đời của tác giả sống dưới thời Khmer Đỏ, từ khi là một cô bé con sống sung túc, đến ngày PhnomPenh thất thủ, rồi lay lắt tới khi may mắn vượt biên sang Thailand rồi được bảo lãnh sang USA.

Chế độ cực quyền Cộng sản đỏ đã bóp nghẹt đời sống người dân Cambodia, bóp nghẹt cả thể chất lẫn tinh thần. Ở đó, thời đó, không có quyền được học và không một kẻ trí thức nào được sống sót. Ở đó kh
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
JJ Marsh
Sep 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book detailing a child’s survival in 1970 Cambodia is not a novel. Highs and lows orchestrated by the author are absent here. This is not a feel-good story. It is a stark revelation of what it meant to be a child under one of the most ruthless regimes in Asia.

This is the early 70s, when Cambodia became an experiment in radical socialism, and the Khmer Rouge took power and attempted to return the country to its 'pure', peasant history. Intellectuals were persecuted, farmers lauded and the entir
Caroline Bell
In order to actually review this book, one has to separate the story from the writing. The story itself is impactful and crushing: a small girl's tale of her experience under the Khmer Rouge, from the day they evacuate the capital city of Phnom Penh, to being flown to the US as a refugee. Her memories are detailed, the emotions raw and honest, and the events heartbreaking. Him writes with a clear head and a great deal of restraint. She never plunges too deep into regret or hysteria. In fact, I w ...more
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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 15, 2011 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 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Humans can triumph out of the most horrific conditions. Reading this made me think that if people who survived the horror of the Khmer Rouge occupation in Cambodia could continue moving forward in their lives, then so can I.
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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".
Missy J
Apr 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everybody
"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
Reza Amiri Praramadhan
I've just read a book on same subject by Loung Ung called, "First They Killed My Father", so I can't help comparing the two memoirs. In my opinion, overall, Chanrithy has had better life under Khmer Rouge than Loung had. Although her family was similarly perished, I did not see rage and hatred on Khmer Rouge in her as seen on Loung Ung. However, Chanrithy's path towards immigration to America seemed more winding than Loung's, more complicated by works of his annoying brother-in-law. All in all, ...more
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you're looking for a beautifully written historical book this is the one for you!

Going into Him's book I knew nothing of Cambodian culture and was ignorant of the existence of the Khmer Rouge. When I reached the halfway point, I felt as though I gained an understanding of Cambodian culture (and history) as well as the heinous crimes that were committed by the Khmer Rouge.

I was moved continuously throughout my time reading (sometimes even to tears). If you enjoy history, culture, or READING,
Michelle Theret
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book after visiting Cambodia, including the killing field outside of Phnom Penh and S21 prison, because I wanted to get a non-governmental perspective on what life was like during the Khmer Rouge. Unsurprisingly, this is a tough read, both from the perspective of what Athy's family goes through, but also as a westerner realizing how much these people suffered before we were willing to intervene. Highly recommend if you're looking for an insightful read.
Jane Thompson
Sep 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cambodia. story

A young girl's tale of living under the Khmer Rouge. I interesting, as I knew very little about the Khmer Rouge. Her life was brutal under these communists, with little food and back breaking to forced labor. However, she does not tell of their ideology or their motivation.
Barb Weber
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book!

What a fascinating read! Very well written, and takes me to a part of history I knew very little about. My only disappointment is that the book wasn't longer and I am very curious to what happened to the family later, and how they adjusted to life in the United States.
Shelly Frick
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Heartbreaking journey with a happy ending for Athy. Fascinating read.
Thanusha Ganesan
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Depressing, deeply moving yet one of the most powerful accounts of a Khmer Rouge terror survivor.
Sarah Mina
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most heart wrenching books I've ever read. It focuses on a piece of history not often covered in schools. Please read!
Writing Style: 3/5
Composition: 3/5
Balance: 1/5
Resonance: 5/5

When Broken Glass Floats provides a first-hand voice of a victim of epic tragedy. Chanrithy Him remarks early in the autobiography:
I also like to think that telling my story and assisting PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] studies [involving the survivors like herself] are my way of avenging the Khmer Rouge. It is also my way of opposing governments that have inflicted pain and suffering on innocent children, whose trust has been ex
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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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“There is a story about the life of Buddha in which a mother carries her dead son to him draped in her arms. The woman has heard that he is a holy man who can restore life. Weeping, she appeals for mercy. Gently, Buddha tells her that he can help save her son’s life, but that first she has to bring him a mustard seed secured from a family that has never experienced death. Desperately she searches home after home. Many want to help, but everyone has already experienced a loss--a sister, a husband, a child. Finally the woman returns to Buddha. “What have you found?” he asks. “Where is your mustard seed and where is your son? You are not carrying him.”
“I buried him,” she replies”
“A woman isn’t just married to her husband, but to his whole family” 3 likes
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