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On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh to open a new and appalling chapter in the story of the twentieth century. On that day, Pin Yathay was a qualified engineer in the Ministry of Public Works. Successful and highly educated, he had been critical of the corrupt Lon Nol regime and hoped that the Khmer Rouge would be the patriotic saviors of Cambodia.In Stay On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh to open a new and appalling chapter in the story of the twentieth century. On that day, Pin Yathay was a qualified engineer in the Ministry of Public Works. Successful and highly educated, he had been critical of the corrupt Lon Nol regime and hoped that the Khmer Rouge would be the patriotic saviors of Cambodia.In Stay Alive, My Son, Pin Yathay provides an unforgettable testament of the horror that ensued and a gripping account of personal courage, sacrifice and survival. Documenting the 27 months from the arrival of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh to his escape into Thailand, Pin Yathay is a powerful and haunting memoir of Cambodia's killing fields.With seventeen members of his family, Pin Yathay were evacuated by the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh, taking with them whatever they might need for the three days before they would be allowed to return to their home. Instead, they were moved on from camp to camp, their possessions confiscated or abandoned. As days became weeks and weeks became months, they became the New People, displaced urban dwellers compelled to live and work as peasants, their days were filled with forced manual labor and their survival dependent on ever more meager communal rations. The body count mounted, first as malnutrition bred rampant disease and then as the Khmer Rouge singled out the dissidents for sudden death in the darkness.Eventually, Pin Yathay's family was reduced to just himself, his wife, and their one remaining son, Nawath. Wracked with pain and disease, robbed of all they had owned, living on the very edge of dying, they faced a future of escalating horror. With Nawath too ill to travel, Pin Yathay and his wife, Any, had to make the heart-breaking decision whether to leave him to the care of a Cambodian hospital in order to make a desperate break for freedom. Stay alive, my son, he tells Nawath before embarking on a nightmarish escape to the Thai border.First published in 1987, the Cornell edition of Stay Alive, My Son includes an updated preface and epilogue by Pin Yathay and a new foreword by David Chandler, a world-renowned historian of Cambodia, who attests to the continuing value and urgency of Pin Yathay's message.


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On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh to open a new and appalling chapter in the story of the twentieth century. On that day, Pin Yathay was a qualified engineer in the Ministry of Public Works. Successful and highly educated, he had been critical of the corrupt Lon Nol regime and hoped that the Khmer Rouge would be the patriotic saviors of Cambodia.In Stay On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh to open a new and appalling chapter in the story of the twentieth century. On that day, Pin Yathay was a qualified engineer in the Ministry of Public Works. Successful and highly educated, he had been critical of the corrupt Lon Nol regime and hoped that the Khmer Rouge would be the patriotic saviors of Cambodia.In Stay Alive, My Son, Pin Yathay provides an unforgettable testament of the horror that ensued and a gripping account of personal courage, sacrifice and survival. Documenting the 27 months from the arrival of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh to his escape into Thailand, Pin Yathay is a powerful and haunting memoir of Cambodia's killing fields.With seventeen members of his family, Pin Yathay were evacuated by the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh, taking with them whatever they might need for the three days before they would be allowed to return to their home. Instead, they were moved on from camp to camp, their possessions confiscated or abandoned. As days became weeks and weeks became months, they became the New People, displaced urban dwellers compelled to live and work as peasants, their days were filled with forced manual labor and their survival dependent on ever more meager communal rations. The body count mounted, first as malnutrition bred rampant disease and then as the Khmer Rouge singled out the dissidents for sudden death in the darkness.Eventually, Pin Yathay's family was reduced to just himself, his wife, and their one remaining son, Nawath. Wracked with pain and disease, robbed of all they had owned, living on the very edge of dying, they faced a future of escalating horror. With Nawath too ill to travel, Pin Yathay and his wife, Any, had to make the heart-breaking decision whether to leave him to the care of a Cambodian hospital in order to make a desperate break for freedom. Stay alive, my son, he tells Nawath before embarking on a nightmarish escape to the Thai border.First published in 1987, the Cornell edition of Stay Alive, My Son includes an updated preface and epilogue by Pin Yathay and a new foreword by David Chandler, a world-renowned historian of Cambodia, who attests to the continuing value and urgency of Pin Yathay's message.

30 review for Stay Alive, My Son

  1. 4 out of 5

    Doreen Petersen

    What a moving book!!! The horrors the author endured are too numerable to mention. This is definitely a must read!!!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    What an incredible book, i took so much away from it. A narrative that read like an adventure film, a heartbreaking true account of the plight of the people of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, an insight into how quickly what you have can be lost, how quickly a politically vulnerable country can be taken over by so little ammunition and so much stealth and obfuscation. What surprised me was how currency was de-valued within three days of the people being driven from their homes, and how survival What an incredible book, i took so much away from it. A narrative that read like an adventure film, a heartbreaking true account of the plight of the people of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, an insight into how quickly what you have can be lost, how quickly a politically vulnerable country can be taken over by so little ammunition and so much stealth and obfuscation. What surprised me was how currency was de-valued within three days of the people being driven from their homes, and how survival depended on family and guile.It is ironic that the author lost all of his family when the important message of the book is that family is all that counts. Anybody who believes that extreme communism ever works in practice might like to read this book, and contemplate the importance they place on their freedom and their individuality.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alesa

    Pin Yathay was a government engineer when Pol Pot's regime took over Cambodia. He describes being marched with all the other residents of Phnom Penh, the capital city, to the fields to labor. This is his true story, told with simplicity and a sort of beauty. I bought this book in Cambodia, and it helped explain what we saw during visits to The Killing Fields and S-21, the Khmer Rouge's torture center. Although it's educational, it also just leaves you numb inside, wondering about our species, an Pin Yathay was a government engineer when Pol Pot's regime took over Cambodia. He describes being marched with all the other residents of Phnom Penh, the capital city, to the fields to labor. This is his true story, told with simplicity and a sort of beauty. I bought this book in Cambodia, and it helped explain what we saw during visits to The Killing Fields and S-21, the Khmer Rouge's torture center. Although it's educational, it also just leaves you numb inside, wondering about our species, and we can be so horribly cruel to one another. If you want to learn about Cambodia's history, this is a great book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Seylene sl

    Read this book in 2012, and I left my hard copy in Tokyo somewhere along the street as a gift to stranger.. The horror from the regime was inhuman and the worst nightmare..

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tom Shannon

    Although this is a similar story to all the accounts of Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, I thought it was well written and even exciting. It helped tell the history of Cambodia through the eyes of people that lived through it and I won't soon forget this one. Although this is a similar story to all the accounts of Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, I thought it was well written and even exciting. It helped tell the history of Cambodia through the eyes of people that lived through it and I won't soon forget this one.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Audrey L

    This is a hard to find book. My mom borrowed it from a woman who bought it on her trip to Cambodia. This is one of the best books I've read from an adults point of view what happened during the takeover of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge (the name given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the totalitarian ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, led by Pol Pot) The Khmer Rouge subjected Cambodia to a radical social reform process that was aimed at creating a purely agrarian-based This is a hard to find book. My mom borrowed it from a woman who bought it on her trip to Cambodia. This is one of the best books I've read from an adults point of view what happened during the takeover of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge (the name given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the totalitarian ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, led by Pol Pot) The Khmer Rouge subjected Cambodia to a radical social reform process that was aimed at creating a purely agrarian-based Communist society. The city-dwellers (New People) were deported to the countryside, where they were combined with the local population (Ancients) and subjected to forced labor. About 1.5 million Cambodians are estimated to have died in waves of murder, torture, and starvation, aimed particularly at the educated and intellectual elite. The Khmer Rouge wanted to eliminate anyone suspected of "involvement in free-market activities". Suspected capitalists encompassed professionals and almost everyone with an education, many urban dwellers, and people with connections to foreign governments. The Khmer Rouge believed parents were tainted with capitalism. Consequently, children were separated from parents and brainwashed to socialism as well as taught torture methods with animals. Children were a "dictatorial instrument of the party" and were given leadership in torture and executions. One of their mottoes, in reference to the New People, was: "To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss. The worst part of this story is that so many people didn't believe this could happen to them. They were clueless that the communist party they were embracing would turn out to be their killers. All they wanted was to be taken care of, not realizing that giving up their personal freedom and responsibility would turn into tragedy.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chase Healey

    This book was the beginning of my love for memoirs. I was forced to read this book for an English class and soon found myself sobbing in bed late at night after finishing it. Truly heartbreaking and a sad look into one of the worlds great massacres.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Travelin

    Portrays the days and months just after the Khmer Rouge took over, with the capital evacuated and people burning suddenly worthless money. More importantly, a very personal, very honest account of how psychologically heartless survivors become during extreme duress. It seems to be that victims in such situations spend so much time ignoring or manipulating each other, that it's often not necessary for the dictators to enforce suffering one-on-one anymore. Why for example, were some decisions made Portrays the days and months just after the Khmer Rouge took over, with the capital evacuated and people burning suddenly worthless money. More importantly, a very personal, very honest account of how psychologically heartless survivors become during extreme duress. It seems to be that victims in such situations spend so much time ignoring or manipulating each other, that it's often not necessary for the dictators to enforce suffering one-on-one anymore. Why for example, were some decisions made about the son, when the group travelling might have been able to trade him hand-to-hand on the journey? Nevertheless, Cambodia today is still ruled by "good" Khmer Rouge, and it's likely that essential, culturally specific experiences of being Cambodian, if you want to understand how 2 million people let themselves be gradually starved to death, can't be expressed explicitely by this former minister of roads or many of the world's observers.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Saxon

    The best Khmer Rouge memoir I've read so far. Unlike the child narrators in "First They Killed My Father" and "When Broken Glass Floats," both of which were still quite good if slightly less satisfying, the narrator in this book is a married man with kids. As a result, you get a much more nuanced account of what happened, along with the added weight of his being responsible for children. The writing is crisp and clear, the story structured to slowly ratchet up tension. When I finished reading it The best Khmer Rouge memoir I've read so far. Unlike the child narrators in "First They Killed My Father" and "When Broken Glass Floats," both of which were still quite good if slightly less satisfying, the narrator in this book is a married man with kids. As a result, you get a much more nuanced account of what happened, along with the added weight of his being responsible for children. The writing is crisp and clear, the story structured to slowly ratchet up tension. When I finished reading it, I felt like I did when I got through "Alive" by Piers Paul Read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mona

    Wishing I'd read this book before a four-day whirlwind stop in Cambodia. We have no idea of the horrors that happened to innocents during the time of the Khmer Rouge and the "killing fields". Little by little the author lost every family member and all he owned. By luck and ingenuity he managed to escape the horrors which will fill his heart, mind and soul for the rest of his days. When does the world learn? This is happening again now in another part of the world and we know it, yet can't stop Wishing I'd read this book before a four-day whirlwind stop in Cambodia. We have no idea of the horrors that happened to innocents during the time of the Khmer Rouge and the "killing fields". Little by little the author lost every family member and all he owned. By luck and ingenuity he managed to escape the horrors which will fill his heart, mind and soul for the rest of his days. When does the world learn? This is happening again now in another part of the world and we know it, yet can't stop it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paul Vermeher

    This might be a controversial comment, but I think Pin Yathay ate his wife. Pin Yathay gives a very detailed account of his esacpe from the Kmher Rouge. The only part of the escape that is recollected in less than a paragraph is the death of his wife. Cannibalism had been frequently reported, and the man was surely starving. Cannot blame him though for wanting to admit to that. Just my theory, of course.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Karen San Diego

    I read it in Filipino, translated by Ruth Elynia S. Mabanglo. The descriptions were very graphic and real. I am very sorry for having no knowledge of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia much because of Sihanouk's involvement with the Vietnam war, until now. What happened was very horrible and I grieve for his family. This is very well-written and emotionally charged. Recommended for those looking for historical non-fiction wartime stories. I read it in Filipino, translated by Ruth Elynia S. Mabanglo. The descriptions were very graphic and real. I am very sorry for having no knowledge of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia much because of Sihanouk's involvement with the Vietnam war, until now. What happened was very horrible and I grieve for his family. This is very well-written and emotionally charged. Recommended for those looking for historical non-fiction wartime stories.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Will Peart

    Harrowing and revealing account of living through the Khymer Rouge era in Cambodia. The book is essential reading for people spending time in Cambodia wanting to fill the gaps of historical overviews and broad statistics with a human story representative of the suffering and horrors at the hand of Pol Pot and his 'Democratic Kampuchea'. Harrowing and revealing account of living through the Khymer Rouge era in Cambodia. The book is essential reading for people spending time in Cambodia wanting to fill the gaps of historical overviews and broad statistics with a human story representative of the suffering and horrors at the hand of Pol Pot and his 'Democratic Kampuchea'.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ben Collins

    Incredible story of one family's survival during the Khmer Rouge. Thay must work toward the survival of his extended family in the harsh conditions of relocation including famine, illness and death. Gripping details of what it took for him to survive, and the family he lost along the way. Would you be willing to do anything to survive? Incredible story of one family's survival during the Khmer Rouge. Thay must work toward the survival of his extended family in the harsh conditions of relocation including famine, illness and death. Gripping details of what it took for him to survive, and the family he lost along the way. Would you be willing to do anything to survive?

  15. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    This is the story of Pin Yathay the only member of his family who survived the holocaust of the Khmer Rouge. A heart wrenching story. After the WW11 Holocaust people said “never again”. Well, it has happened many times since then. Although there were a few typographical errors in the copy that I read, it didn’t distract from the story. This is a recommended book for anyone who wants to know more about this dark period in Cambodia when anyone who was perceived as an enemy was treated so brutally, This is the story of Pin Yathay the only member of his family who survived the holocaust of the Khmer Rouge. A heart wrenching story. After the WW11 Holocaust people said “never again”. Well, it has happened many times since then. Although there were a few typographical errors in the copy that I read, it didn’t distract from the story. This is a recommended book for anyone who wants to know more about this dark period in Cambodia when anyone who was perceived as an enemy was treated so brutally, many starved to death and modern medicine was not available for diseases like malaria that would have been treated successfully in any other country.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hella Comat

    I didn’t know anything about the Khmer Rouge’s takeover of Cambodia in the 70s, so this was a real eye opener, as tragic as it was. It’s one man’s story of the horrendous treatment of Cambodians in the name of communism - a horrible experiment gone wrong, mostly due to the ignorance and corruption of the Khmer Rouge rebels. It’s estimated that about one third of the population died, through starvation, torture, or murder. The insurgents methodically killed any middle class or educated people, or I didn’t know anything about the Khmer Rouge’s takeover of Cambodia in the 70s, so this was a real eye opener, as tragic as it was. It’s one man’s story of the horrendous treatment of Cambodians in the name of communism - a horrible experiment gone wrong, mostly due to the ignorance and corruption of the Khmer Rouge rebels. It’s estimated that about one third of the population died, through starvation, torture, or murder. The insurgents methodically killed any middle class or educated people, or forced them into farming as slaves, yet did not allow them to have enough food (rice) to survive. Thanks for the book, Dianne - I’ll get it back to you next time I’m out that way.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Steve Castley

    This is an amazing book. Difficult to read but harder to put down. Pin Yathay is an amazing writer and has crafted a very difficult and emotional memoir. Genocide in Cambodia is not an easy topic and for it to be told by the sole survivor of his family is an incredible accomplishment. Sadly similar books will soon be coming out of Burma / Myanmar.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jo Scott

    devastating and heart breaking to read but highly recommended. Purchased a dog eared copy whilst backpacking in South East Asia in 2008. The remnants of devastation still evident in this lovely country.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gayle Winchester

    This book broke my heart to read but it is such an insight into the life of the Cambodian people in the pol pot years you cannot ignore what they went through and still to this day the scars remain as the book explains

  20. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Rerden

    A really clear analysis of the Cambodian civil war and the social and economic impacts it created. Told through the crushing story of a father's journey to survive a war that killed up to two thirds of the population. A really clear analysis of the Cambodian civil war and the social and economic impacts it created. Told through the crushing story of a father's journey to survive a war that killed up to two thirds of the population.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Chiro Pipashito T H

    What an incredible story of survival and such a first-hand testimony of a brutal regime. The author lost all of his family members but survived to tell the story. And the survival was not easy. This story makes all our own grievances seem so small.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    Shattering story of one families suffering in the Cambodian atrocities. It should win the booker prize

  23. 5 out of 5

    B Deg

    i'd like to give it more than 5 stars. Amazing story!! i'd like to give it more than 5 stars. Amazing story!!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ines

    Heartbreaking narration of the brutality of fanatic totalitarism... I couldn't stop reading it... Heartbreaking narration of the brutality of fanatic totalitarism... I couldn't stop reading it...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Pam Ela

    Story of one mans escape from Khmer rogue in Cambodia

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    #24in48 will review later

  27. 5 out of 5

    Carol Tilley

    Horrifying and redemptive.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    This book should be read by everyone.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Uncle Alfred

    If I ran a high school, this would be required reading for every graduate. This is where Communism will eventually lead. The personal epic moves without justifying survival behavior. A Cambodian man traces his heart-breaking escape story from Pol Pot's genocide. If I ran a high school, this would be required reading for every graduate. This is where Communism will eventually lead. The personal epic moves without justifying survival behavior. A Cambodian man traces his heart-breaking escape story from Pol Pot's genocide.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Veronique

    The true story of Pin Yathay who was a goverment engineer when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. Not an easy book to read,it will haunt me for a while,it will stay with me even longer. It's interesting to see how very quickly the situation of the country changes, how the people, first in denial, move to accepting, still hoping things will get better, then to survival mode before (for some of them), thinking of escaping or fighting (even if that simply means choosing how to die.) It The true story of Pin Yathay who was a goverment engineer when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. Not an easy book to read,it will haunt me for a while,it will stay with me even longer. It's interesting to see how very quickly the situation of the country changes, how the people, first in denial, move to accepting, still hoping things will get better, then to survival mode before (for some of them), thinking of escaping or fighting (even if that simply means choosing how to die.) It also raises the question, how far would you go, how much would you bare, in order to survive. I am always amazed to see how far some of us could go to stay alive, how much they could endure. Yathay is still struggling about his decision to leave his son behind, to bring his wife with him to try to escape. I certainly have no right to judge, and if I can rationally understand his decision, I still have a difficult time to emotionally accept it. Can we choose to Stay Alive no matter what?

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