Haing Ngor had a rebellious childhood. His father, who operated a profitable oil-trucking business and later a lumber mill, came from a Chinese background. His mother had the darker skin of the Khmer race, native Cambodians. France ruled the racially stressed, impoverished country, while guerrillas sought to overthrow its puppet monarchy. Businessmen such as Haing Ngor’s father were often caught between the two sides, periodically being kidnapped by the guerrillas for ransom while also paying bribes to government soldiers in order to navigate the roads.
Unlike his brothers, Haing Ngor rejects a place in the family business. After early academic failure and even a short period as a Buddhist monk, he went to medical school and became a doctor, majoring in obstetrics and gynecology. While Haing Ngor was leading a comfortable professional life, a reactionary government ruled his country, fighting to suppress the indigenous Khmer Rouge. Across the border in Vietnam, Chinese-dominated Northern forces battled the American controlled South, encroaching upon Cambodian territory on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
As conditions worsened, Haing Ngor made a shortsighted decision to remain in Cambodia, presuming that any government would support medical practice. Instead, the triumphant Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot herded city populations into regional work camps as forced labor to grow rice and to work on machineless construction projects.
In the ensuing four years,...
(The entire section is 452 words.)