As was true with her National Book Award finalist, SOLD, Patricia McCormick uses her fiction writing skills and her journalistic writing ability to share a child victim''s harrowing tale. In this case it is Arn Chorn-Pond, survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia....
As was true with her National Book Award finalist, SOLD, Patricia McCormick uses her fiction writing skills and her journalistic writing ability to share a child victim''s harrowing tale. In this case it is Arn Chorn-Pond, survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. NEVER FALL DOWN, named for one of the first things the captured boy learned to survive, travels the full arc of his experience, from the last days of normalcy before the Khmer Rouge takeover through the years of captivity, forced labor, and eventual conscription as a Khmer Rouge "soldier" when the Vietnamese invaded.
And as was the case with Sold, this is a young adult book with some adult themes, in this case, violence, death, murder, and other atrocities. At times the descriptions get quite graphic. Adding to the effect is McCormick''s decision to tell it as Arn himself would after he has learned but not mastered all the nuances of English. The contrast of this young, naive voice in broken English and the brutality it witnesses is stark, adding to the effect. Example:
"We walk three day. One long line of kid, all in black, one black snake with five hundred eye. Very tire, my leg heavy like boulder, my mind think only of the next step, then one more step, just walking, no thinking, no caring. Some kid die on the way. They die walking. Some kid cry for their parent or say they tire, they hungry. They get shot or maybe stab with the bayonet. Now we don''t even look. We only walk."
In its way, Don''t Fall Down reminded me of Elie Wiesel''s Night, where we start with a healthy, happy boy, and end with a shadow, physically and mentally. It would make a perfect companion read, in fact. It is short, easy to read, and wise in its straightforward style of narration. McCormick lets the horror speak for itself. And, as was the case with the young Wiesel in 1943 Hungary, Arn faces choiceless choices in his bid to survive, to someday reunite with his family. He uses considerable guile around adults and learns how to make himself valuable through his musical ability. Still, Death is at his elbow most every page of the book, and the motives of various Khmer Rouge soldiers are always suspect, lending the book a sustained sense of horror and suspense.
As you might expect, happy endings are hard to come by for people who go through such trauma. Arn is no exception. Author McCormick spent countless hours interviewing not only Chorn-Pond but surviving family members, his American adoptive family members, and even former members of the Khmer Rouge he interacted with. Many of these people now live in a northern enclave of Cambodia, and McCormick and Chorn-Pond flew together to meet the most important one for what must have been a memorable reunion and interview to make this book as accurate as possible.
"I asked Arn difficult, probing questions about his actions," McCormick writes in the Author''s Note, " -- the heroic and the horrific. I verified, as much as possible, the truth of his story. Then I wrote his story as a novel. Like all survivors, Arn can recall certain experiences in chilling detail; others he can tell only in vague generalities... So I added to his recollections with my own research -- and my own imagination -- to fill in the missing pieces. The truth, I believe, is right there between the lines."
It''s a sobering truth, too -- one that once again reminds us there are no depths to which man is incapable of sinking.