BOOK REVIEW: Blood, Tears and an Accordionby kenneth ( )
‘‘I cannot tell you how or why I survived; I do not know myself. It is like this: love and music and memory and invisible hands, and something that comes out of the society of the living and the dead, for which there are no words.’’ With these words, Daran Kravanh began telling his story about how he survived the Khmer Rouge years in Cambodia.
Born in 1954, Kravanh, whose story is told in ‘Music through the Dark’ written by author Bree Lafreniere, lived through the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979) as an adult. As a musician who received education, he was targeted for death by the genocidal group, which was executing intellectuals and artists alike. However, it was his talent with the accordion that kept him alive.
After surviving through those years, Kravanh continued living in Cambodia before escaping into Thailand and eventually arriving in the United States, where he works as a social worker and lives with his two sons, Kiry and Chunneath.
The Khmer Rouge claimed the lives of up to three million Cambodians, including Kravanh’s family of 11. Of his family, only Kravanh and his brother, Reatrey Kravanh, survived.
The book follows Kravanh as he recalls his experience during the period, from evading the Khmer Rouge and failing in an attempt to escape into Thailand, to eventually living under the regime. He recalled the many times that he came to death and was saved by the music he played, since he was often asked by the Khmer Rouge soldiers to play a Khmer tune or two.
‘Music through the Dark’ is the product of a chance meeting between Lafreniere and Kravanh in 1992, when Lafreniere asked the simple question, ‘‘How did you survive?’’ The two worked together in the Refuge Assistance Programme of Catholic Community Services in Tacoma, Washington.
Lafreniere describes the process as a development ‘‘through my need to know life’s meaning and Daran’s need to recall it’’. Through four years, the two of them talked while Lafreniere took down notes. They then compiled the details following a trip to Cambodia in December 1997. “We believe our collaboration makes for a wider view and a deeper truth.”
The book makes several references to Kravanh’s family – memories and lessons learnt from his childhood that made him who he was, and even skills that aided him in carrying out assignments from the Khmer Rouge.
While the book highlights many of the atrocities that the Khmer Rouge had committed against fellow Cambodians, it also shows the compassion that Cambodians show towards each other in times of hardship, as well as the eventual triumph of the human spirit.
The book also introduces a fair bit of the Cambodian culture to the readers, such as the rituals and songs that were forbidden of under the Khmer Rouge and tales that are told from one generation to another.
Kravanh’s eventful ordeal with the Khmer Rouge included some incredible encounters, such as a dream that brought him to safety or finding an accordion on the stump of a tree during the reign.
Unlike other accounts from survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, Lafreniere states that the book is ‘‘not a translation, an oral history or an autobiography’’ but a ‘‘literary account of a personal experience told by one person and written by another’’.
All in all, this is a story provides a clear account of the Khmer Rouge era and also serves as a reminder of the atrocities of war as well as the need for us to avoid it.
It is also a useful reminder of the atrocities of war and what human beings can do to one another, at a time when the actual trials of Khmer Rouge leaders is nearing – more than three decades after they fell from power. Senior leaders of the group are expected to be on trial as early as September, starting with Kaing Guek Eav or Duch, who was the head of the infamous Toul Sleng torture and detention centre in Phnom Penh. (END/IPSAP/BK/JS/08)