A Great Memoir

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In the intro, one of the memoir writers, James Taing, mentions that he helped write this book in order to bring attention to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge and the human tragedies that took place in Cambodia in the 1970s under their reign of terror. And honestly, I cannot agree more. It's telling that my first exposure to the Khmer Rouge and their history was in the Inspector Singh murder mystery series that I picked up on a whim on a library trip a few years ago. Since then, the only other book that I have seen that has mentioned the Khmer Rouge atrocities has been the Siri Paiboun murder mystery series. It's just not a commonly discussed point of human history despite the fact that it decimated the entire country, and caused the average lifespan of a citizen to plummet to just over 42 years of age due to the dangers of famine, overwork, disease, and murder.

"Under the Naga Tail" provides a human, nonfictional account of these events in a way that is both heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. We see how the Taing family go from being relatively well-off, secure in their income and in their home, to suddenly scrabbling to find food and survive in an era where death for annoying a Khmer Rouge soldier is not out of the question. It's interesting to see how this group went from being the hope of a country and a potential harbinger of justice and peace to the source of misery and injustice to those it saw as remotely bourgeoisie. To give some historical context, this included individuals who wore glasses or spoke against the regime in any way.

The book also serves as a thriller of sorts. Although we are aware that the narrator survives (after all, how else would his son help him write his memoir), the close calls he undergoes in his interactions with Khmer soldiers and his journey to escaping the regime is no less nail-biting. It's clear that he and his family suffered a great deal in order to survive and provide us with this great story.