The Tragedy of Cambodian History

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

More than a million people, Chandler estimates, died after the Khmer Rouge began the forcible resettlement of urbanites in the countryside, compelling them to labor long hours for meager rations and often treating them with wanton brutality. The last two chapters, treating the holocaust itself, make for gripping, if somewhat disturbing, reading.

The five chapters covering the years from 1945 to Lon Nol’s 1970 coup are sometimes boring; yet one must study this era if one is to understand later events. Chandler describes in detail the intricate minuet of pre-1970 politics, in which Prince Norodom Sihanouk tried to keep one step ahead of his rivals while staying out of America’s Vietnam War. We also learn how a student sojourn in early 1950’s France shaped the ideology of future Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot. The chapter on the years 1970 to 1975 does not adequately treat the role played by the United States; it should be compared with SIDESHOW: KISSINGER, NIXON, AND THE DESTRUCTION OF CAMBODIA (1979), by British journalist William Shawcross.

Refusing to see the Cambodian holocaust merely as evidence of the folly and wickedness of international Communism, Chandler finds its roots within Cambodia itself, which he sees as lacking any real democratic tradition; this double perspective is illuminating. Although barely four pages of text give the story from the Vietnamese takeover of 1979 to 1991, THE TRAGEDY OF CAMBODIAN HISTORY will interest scholar and general reader alike.

Sources for Further Study

Choice. XXIX, July, 1992, p. 1734.

Foreign Affairs. LXXI, Spring, 1992, p. 213.

Journal of Asian Studies. LI, November, 1992, p. 977.

Library Journal. CXVII, January, 1992, p. 151.

London Review of Books. XIV, May 28, 1992, p. 12.

The New Republic. CCVI, February 17, 1992, p. 32.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, January 12, 1992, p. 7.

Orbis. XXXVI, Summer, 1992, p. 485.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, November 29, 1991, p. 34.

The Wall Street Journal. September 2, 1992, p. A9.