The Years of Zero: Coming of Age Under the Khmer Rouge is a survivor’s account of the Cambodian genocide carried out by Pol Pot’s sadistic and terrifying Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. It follows the author, Seng Ty, from the age of seven as he is plucked from his comfortable, middle-class home in a Phnom Penh suburb, marched along a blistering, black strip of highway into the jungle, and thrust headlong into the unspeakable barbarities of an agricultural labor camp. Seng’s mother was worked to death while his siblings succumbed to starvation. His oldest brother was brought back from France and tortured in the secret prison of Tuol Sleng. His family’s only survivor and a mere child, Seng was forced to fend for himself, navigating the brainwashing campaigns and random depravities of the Khmer Rouge, determined to survive so he could bear witness to what happened in the camp. The Years of Zero guides the reader through the author’s long, desperate periods of harrowing darkness, each chapter a painting of cruelty, caprice, and courage. It follows Seng as he sneaks mice and other living food from the rice paddies where he labors, knowing that the penalty for such defiance is death. It tracks him as he tries to escape into the jungle, only to be dragged back to his camp and severely beaten. Through it all, Seng finds a way to remain whole both in body and in mind. He rallies past torture, betrayal, disease and despair, refusing at every juncture to surrender to the murderers who have stolen everything he had. As The Years of Zero concludes, the reader will have lived what Seng lived, risked what he risked, endured what he endured, and finally celebrate with him his unlikeliest of triumphs.
I have read many of the Khmer Rouge Survivor's Stories BUT the Years of Zero was the most compelling read. Amidst tears, I couldn't put the book down until I finished it. The forward and the last chapter were the ones most poignant for me. It is a monument to the human spirit and a lesson to be learned. Please can we stop the human genocide and have compassion for each other.
Congratulations to Seng Ty and his continued teachings of knowledge and compassion.
Dorcas rated it 5 of 5 stars
"I remember seeing young boys returning home on the backs of their water buffaloes and hearing the music of cowbells in the evening. Frogs croaked and crickets chirped. It was pure innocence on our big land..."
Thus begins the story of Seng Ty, youngest child of 11, the son of a doctor and kindly mother in Cambodia on the brink of civil war.
This is an AMAZING book. No, it's not always easy to read, some parts are disturbing, and what the author and others experienced during those "Zero years" wi...more
A survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime tells his story.
In his debut memoir, Ty recounts his childhood in Cambodia. The youngest child in a middle-class doctor’s family, Ty was 7 when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. His family was among the thousands relocated to rural villages, where they were forced to renounce their Westernized habits and remake themselves as agricultural laborers, always under the threat of reprisals from their guards. Ty vividly describes the horrors of the Khmer Rouge violence, but his tone is almost matter-of-fact, swaying the reader through brutal facts more than wrenching emotions: “The Khmer Rouge would have been treated as backward peasants, as children from the jungle who had never known city life, except for one thing; they had guns.” Although the family fought to survive—taking risks to steal extra food, avoiding the guards’ notice—Ty ended up an orphan. His father was murdered, and his mother died of malnutrition. He was separated from his older siblings—he later learned that several of them were also killed—and survived by himself, relying on intelligence, determination and a belief that his mother’s spirit was protecting him. Ty eventually made his way to the Khao-I-Dang refugee camp in Thailand, where American journalist Roger Rosenblatt featured him in an article in Time magazine. (Rosenblatt, who has remained in contact with Ty, writes the book’s introduction.) Ty’s eloquent description of his experience drew attention when the article was published in the United States. It inspired a woman named Marlena Brown to help settle Cambodian orphans in the United States. The Brown family adopted Ty, who writes compellingly of the cultural confusion and periods of adjustment that shaped his new life. His discomfort with indoor plumbing may bring a smile to the reader’s face, but when a camping vacation reminds him of his family’s jungle ordeal, the reader remembers how much he has endured.
An engaging, open memoir of one child’s wartime experiences.