Friday 5 July 2013

Never Fall Down

Finished July 5
Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

This is a novel, but it is based on a real life story. Based on the real boy Arn Chorn, this story is set in Cambodia from 1975 through 1979, with some follow-up to Arn following his move to the United States. Arn is eleven as the story begins. He has four sisters (3 older, 1 younger) and a younger brother. His parents were singers and ran an opera house and company until the illness and death of his father. At that point, his mother left the children with their aunt as she went elsewhere in the country for work. Arn helps the family out by selling whatever he can find on the street, gambling, and dancing for tourists. His family can't afford school for him. When the Khmer Rouge revolution starts, everyone is forced to leave the city, leaving most of their belongings aside. Much of what they do take is lost during the many days march to labour camps. Arn is separated from his family at this point, but remembers his aunt's words to "Do whatever they say. Be like the grass. Bend low, bend low, then bend lower. The wind blow one way, you bow that way. It blow the other way, you do, too. That is the way to survive".
At first Arn works in the rice fields, but later he is made to become a musician and his skill here helps him to survive. As the country nears liberation, Arn is forced to become a soldier. His experiences of loss, violence and inhumanity are difficult to read about let alone experience, and Arn has a lot of mental anguish from his experience. Following his freedom and his adoption into an American family, he learns to deal with his past, and becomes a man of peace.
This book is based on many interviews with Arn and other survivors that he knew as well as historical research on the Cambodian tragedy.
I found it interesting to compare it with the novel In the Shadow of the Banyan, also based on a child's experiences surviving the Killing Fields of Cambodia. The children came from different classes, but had much similar experiences, both losing most of the their family members and being separated from those they loved as they struggled to survive.

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