Monday, April 28, 2014

The Years Of Zero by Seng Ty

The Years of Zero by Seng Ty"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, war is traumatic and what the author and others experienced during those "Zero years" will break any feeling person's heart in two. But what a beautiful storyteller! While I was reading this I couldn't help but bookmark passages that especially spoke to me. When the Khmer Rouge took over, the author was just a boy. These are his words,

""What are the Khmer Krahom, Mother? " "They are revolutionaries, " she said. The word "revolutionaries " sounded strange. I knew that krahom meant red, so I thought maybe they were red skinned Khmer, like the farmers who worked in the sun all day."

His descriptions were so perfectly apt and observant: "One of my sisters and I went around gathering scraps of wood and leaves for a fire. We noticed that some people had hanged themselves in the trees because they couldn't take it anymore. Their dead bodies hung like some strange fruit from poisonwood trees. I can still see them in my sleep."

""Mother, look there!" I said, pointing. The Khmer Rouge were coming like crows and ravens, all black with their red beaks (they wore red hats) pecking into our fearful hearts. Their dark eyes pierced us."

By now we were so used to seeing dead people that we weren't afraid. There were skulls and bones everywhere. Beyond the bodies there was rice in abundance, enough to bring all those dead people back to life."

"Suddenly we were caught up in a flood of people on this destroyed highway littered with bomb craters. No cars had been seen driving on it for four years. Now [people] came looking for their missing relatives. It was as if everyone was emerging from a grave, like zombies in search of daylight."

I felt like I was there, holding the author's hand while I read his words. This isn't a book about atrocities. yes, there are atrocities described but primarily it is a message of hope. Although bad things happen, we don't have to let those things change our own humanity and compassion. We can turn the tables so to speak on our enemies. Listen to this interview between Seng and a Time Life correspondent:

""Do you believe in revenge? " "Yes," I told him. "Do you want to kill those who killed your parents and siblings?" "No, " I told him. "My only revenge is to be the best person possible, and to be as good a man as I can be.""

What can I say, you just have to read this! Don't dismiss it as just another book about war, it's not. It's a book about a person. A little boy and an even more amazing survivor.

On a side note, I also liked that the author gave the reader a solid peek into his life once he arrived safely in the States with his adopted family. His first impressions were of incredulity. The wealth. The beauty. The food available in one's cupboards. But things weren't always fair sailing. There were misunderstandings, the food tasted nasty, there was culture shock (his toilet stories were hilarious!) and flashbacks (especially when his adopted family decides to take him on their annual camping trip).

Wonderful book! 5 Stars easy!


SEX: None. Rape is mentioned but not described
VIOLENCE: Strong. Civil War is ugly and the author doesn't spare us from all the sights.
PROFANITY: Pretty Mild. Some "potty profanity" at end while discussing toilets.
PARANORMAL ELEMENTS: A woman reads tarot cards and Seng's "future" is told.


*I received a free signed book from the author in exchanged for my honest opinion

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