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Under the Naga Tail
James Taing, author

A courageous and poignant memoir of one young man’s daring escape from Cambodia’s genocidal regime Forced from his home by the Khmer Rouge, teenager Mae Taing struggles to endure years of backbreaking work, constant starvation, and ruthless cruelty from his captors—supposed freedom fighters who turned against their own people. Mae risks torture and death to escape into the dark tropical jungles, trekking across a relentless wilderness crawling with soldiers. When Mae is able to overcome unthinkable odds in the hopes of reuniting with his family, fate takes cruel turn as he flees war-torn Cambodia. He becomes trapped as a refugee with thousands of others on the ancient temple mountain, Preah Vihear, a place surrounded by countless deadly landmines. Caught up in the terror once more, it is only his willpower to survive and dreams of a better country that give Mae the strength to face the dangers ahead. This gripping and inspiring memoir, written with Mae’s son, James, is not merely an incredible story of survival, but a testament to the human spirit’s capacity in us all to endure and prevail in spite of great adversity. Under the Naga Tail will find its place among the most epic true stories of personal triumph. 

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This inspiring, harrowing memoir looks back on one man’s arduous, and daring, escape from Cambodia and its genocidal Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s. Written by the escapee Mae Taing himself, in collaboration with his son James, the book starts with a peek at life in pre-Khmer Cambodia, with its idyllic rhythms. But soon, the country is taken over by Khmer soldiers, and Mae and his family are forcefully moved from one labor camp to another. They are subjected to backbreaking labor and inhumane conditions, and even when they manage to escape to Thailand and believe they’ve seen the last of it, the family is sent back to Cambodia, forced to relive their horror all over again.

“Nowhere on earth, nowhere is there such a place in the world like this,” Taing’s father laments, and the story is one horror after another: soldiers, jungle, landmines whose detonation Taing describes as “earth … heaving hell.” Told with power and clarity in prose touched with hard-won grace, the book is a testament to human perseverance, and will leave you feeling awed, even amazed, at the sheer power of human will and endurance. The storytelling is gripping, stirring great tension, building to bursts of terror. At the same time, Under the Naga Trail honors the country and lives that were left behind, painting an arresting picture of the country, landscape, and family that had to be fled.

For all the beauty of the prose, the accounts of violence are horrific, possibly too much for some readers to stomach as the co-authors bring to life a thankfully now distant world of conflict and unspeakable cruelty. Overall, this book takes an unflinching look at the reign of Khmer Rouge–and what it takes to survive humanity’s worst—and, eventually, thrive. Lovers of stories of history as it’s lived and personal triumph will find this as heartening as it is wrenching.

Takeaway: A heart-rending story of escape and survival under the Khmer Rouge.

Great for fans of: Heather Allen’s The Girl Who Said Goodbye, Haing Ngor’s Survival in the Killing Fields.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A