This review is based on a complimentary book I received from Author, Jennifer H. Lau. It is an honest and voluntary review. The complimentary receipt of it in no way affected my review or rating.Beautiful Hero: How We Survived the Khmer Rouge by Jennifer H. Lau
Release Date: November 11, 2016
Publisher: Lotus Book Group
Source: Author, Jennifer H. Lau
Purchase at: Amazon
With only half a canteen of water and one baby bottle, a family of eight fought for their lives in the killing fields and land mines of Cambodia.
Heroes emerge in the most unlikely places, under the most dangerous conditions. They are often the most ordinary of people facing extraordinary times. Surrounded by unimaginable adverse forces, one strong woman would ultimately lead her entire family to survive. Beautiful Hero is an autobiographical narrative told from a daughter’s perspective. The story centers around Meiyeng, the eponymous Beautiful Hero, and her innate ability to sustain everyone in her family.
Meiyeng’s acumen in solving problems under extreme circumstances is thought-provoking and awe-inspiring. She shepherded her entire family through starvation, diseases, slavery and massacres in war-torn Cambodia to forge a new life in America.
Over two million people—a third of the country’s population—fell victim to a devastating genocide in Cambodia. The rise of the Khmer Rouge posed not merely a single challenge to survival, but rather a series of nightmarish obstacles that required constant circumvention, outmaneuvering, and exceptional fortitude from those few who would survive the regime intact. The story suspensefully unravels the layers of atrocity and evil unleashed upon the people, providing a clear view of this horrific and violent time of the Cambodian revolution.
The book highlights the most basic impulses of man: good vs. evil, individual vs. group, democracy vs. tyranny, and life vs. death. It is the ultimate story of love, sacrifice, survival, and redemption—and lives pushed to the limits. It reaffirms the good in humanity by showing how one family lived and survived with grace and dignity.
(No details were spared from the narrative, but the language of the text and all of its most graphic scenes have been filtered for all audiences.)
Astonishing, captivating and humbling! I force myself to read at least one inspiring non-fiction book per month and I say force because I do not find it easy to read about suffering that was/is just as real to others as my life of safety and security is to me. I can never allow myself to marginalize my humanity by turning a blind eye to the suffering that has taken place and judge the wounded. My heart needs to be led by mercy and reading this story and others like this helps me and stay focus on what matters – people.
When first looking at the title I thought that Khmer Rouge sounded French to me so I looked it up and it is indeed French for “Red Khmers.” This “was the name given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia that was started in 1968 as an offshoot of the Vietnam People’s Army from North Vietnam.” Wikipedia
The story in this book is a direct result of Cambodian genocide that took places from 1975 to 1979. This story starts off with a background of Jennifer H. Lau’s family history before the Khmer Rouge had invaded Cambodia and forced its residents to the countryside. The story then follows the family from their native Cambodia through a death march and other horrors into a labor camp. There was a brief respite and I was grateful for my heart could not take one more minute of pain for this family. Although that is not the last stop for this family as they attempted to enter into Thailand only to be further oppressed and sent back to Cambodia and eventually make one last attempt for Thailand which led them to their final destination of America.
“Instinctively we grabbed our essentials before stampeding over one another to jump down the cliff. It felt as if we had been swallowed into an apocalyptic world where cruelty and pain had no boundaries.”
What it must have been like to make a mad grab for anything you could get your hands on and be completely focused on saving your own skin. To be forced into setting aside what we would consider basic humanity and truly fend for yourself. During their forced migration this family and many, many others endured starvation, beatings, parasites, and deprivation of what we would consider basic necessities such as clean water and a place to go to the bathroom. They were forced to live in circumstances that some of us can barely fathom.
“We urinated and defecated around the spot where we laid our mats to eat our meager meal. These were the exact spots camped in by those in the front from prior nights.”
I cannot imagine that, just cannot imagine sleeping next to not only my filth but the filth of those that had come before me. This story was such an honest telling of the day to day life of not only this family and their extended family but also of the countless others who have no one to tell their story.
I love that the title is an homage to her mother Meiyeng. Mei means Beautiful and Yeng means Hero. This is a bittersweet homage to me though. Her mother in the Author’s opinion was the reason her family stayed alive and intact during this unbelievable journey to freedom but it was only through her stone heart that she was able to do it.
“I’ve told you already!” She sprayed hot breath in my eyes while twisting and sinking her nails into my flesh. The startling pain was enough to upend me halfway off the ground. “This garden saves our lives. Those who sleep now will die later. You envy Mother Len’s daughters, but soon you won’t. Mark my words! Don’t worry about not getting enough sleep. Once you die, you can sleep all you want! You hear?”
She is speaking to a small child. It may seem cruel but in the context of the story it is this drive that truly was the saving grace of this family. My heart just breaks for that mother. It could not have been easy to have to harden her heart against her children’s pleas because if she hadn’t they would have perished.
This is an amazing story that is told in a concise matter and not through poetic prose and that gave it edge, grit, and realism. This is not a reading for the faint of heart and no abuse is glossed over. If you are faint of heart, then maybe have a buddy read it and give you the highlights but I think that it would be a shame if this story was not read/heard by everyone. We can all learn something from it and as always humans need a reminder of not only our mortality but of our humanity. I highly recommend this book!