Leaving the House of Ghosts

Cambodian Refugees in the American Midwest


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About the Book

On April 17, 1975, after five years of civil war, the Khmer Rouge guerrillas invaded Cambodia’s major cities and forced the residents on a mass exodus to the countryside. Their leader, Pol Pot, established a government based on terror to bring about his dream of an agrarian society where work was done by hand—without what he believed to be corruptive influences. By the time the Vietnamese captured Phnom Penh and ended this brutal experiment in communism in 1979, an estimated two million Cambodians were dead and hundreds of thousands had begun to flee the country for refugee camps in Thailand.
Survivors of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge now living in the Midwest tell their stories in this work. Many of them were children during that time, unable to comprehend exactly what was happening and why, but now able to reveal the trauma they experienced.
Noeun Nor and Sinn Lok recollect being wrenched from their families and put into labor camps around the age of five. Prum Nath talks about her mother encouraging her to eat the last grains of her family’s rice. Sokhary You remembers giving birth on a mountain without a doctor or hospital and using rusty scissors to cut the umbilical cord.

About the Author(s)

Sarah Streed has written for various journals and reviews and has taught writing, most recently at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently lives in Stoughton, Wisconsin.

Bibliographic Details

Sarah Streed
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 223
Bibliographic Info: photos, map, chronology, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2002
pISBN: 978-0-7864-1354-6
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8193-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     vii

Introduction     1

1 The Cambodian Autogenocide and Its Aftermath     5

2 The Race for Survival: The Story of Noeun Nor     12

3 The Weaker Brother     27

4 Tricked Twice: The Story of Sinn Lok     35

5 Crappie Fishing on Galpin Lake     47

6 Coming to a Third Country: The Story of Prum Nath     52

7 Why Do Some Survive?     64

8 A Land of Opportunity: The Story of Sam and Sokhary You     71

9 That Ordinary Monster, Pol Pot     94

10 Boat People: The Story of Sokkhom Ngep     103

11 The Next Generation     117

12 The Price of Success: The Story of Samantha Samreth     124

13 Housewarming     140

14 Born to Lead: The Story of Sarith Ou     148

15 To Go Forward     158

16 Against All Odds: The Story of Sophea Mouth     164

17 Coming Full Circle     187

Cambodia: A Chronology     197

Bibliography     203

Index     209

Book Reviews & Awards

Honorable Mention, August Derleth Nonfiction Book Award—Council for Wisconsin Writers
“a thoughtful mixture of memoir, history, and sociology…a vivid portrait of the lives of Cambodian refugees…worth reading”—Mekong Network; “Profoundly moving…. The stories that these men and women have to tell are a heartbreaking mixture of loss, trauma and resilience…. Streed has produced an elegant work.”—David Chandler, a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer in Cambodia, is a noted historian and scholar of Cambodia.