On Monday October 27th the author Seng Ty came to talk to our class about his memoir, “The Years of Zero—Coming of Age Under the Khmer Rouge.” Our class had just finished reading his eye-opening book so hearing him talk about his experiences and memories was truly amazing. It was almost unreal seeing the actual person behind the words and how far he has come. He currently works at Lowell High School and is a loving father and husband. He was adopted by an American family living in Amherst Massachusetts after they read the article, “Children of War,” in TIME Magazine that featured him. Seng talked to us about how is was acclimating to the United States and learning how to speak English. He said it was a lot of work and he was very shy, but he kept pushing through because of all the wonderful opportunities he was given. The whole class could tell how much Seng cared about his family in America by the way he fondly spoke of them. The way Seng talked was very much like is writing style; straightforward and truthful. He did not shy away from anything including the abuse and the bone chilling things he witnessed. One of the students in our class asked him about if he had ill feelings to Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime and the people who carried out the Cambodian genocide. Seng again amazed us with his resilience and strength by expressing that he felt that he didn’t need feel the need for revenge against the people who did those horrible things. He simply wants to share his story to give others hope. He told our class the whole reason he is sharing his story is to send a message of hope to everyone he can and that the purpose for writing his memoir was to spread the word to more people than he could ever touch individually with his words alone.
“The Years of Zero—Coming of Age Under the Khmer Rouge” is about Seng Ty’s childhood and his experiences growing up in the Kampong Speu province of Cambodia. He lived in a middle-class home in the Phnom Penh suburb and lived a contented life with his family. We learn about how his father, a great physician, taught him many of his life values such as always seeing the best in people even when it might be hard. Our class could clearly see how his father’s teaching still showed through by how compassionate and knowledge Seng came off as. When he was seven him and his family is forced into an agricultural labor camp and witnesses many horrifying things. He was the only person in his family who survived the labor camp. His siblings starved to death one by and one his mother was worked to death. They took Seng’s oldest brother and tortured him in the secret prison of Tuol Sleng in France. His experience of the Khmer Rouge is inhuman and gut wrenching.
The fact that the book is from a child’s point of view makes the whole read even more appalling and distressing. Seng is very matter of fact when he writes and he does not downplay the abuse he witnessed in the camps. The memoir gives a great insight to Cambodia’s culture and how unique it is compared to other cultures around the world. The reader even gets a taste of Buddhism teachings. In the memoir Seng does not down talk Cambodian culture in the slightest. He does not blame the culture for what happened and instead gives the reader an understanding of why the Khmer Rouge transpired. The whole story of Seng’s survival and undying faith in humanity astounded our class and I am sure it’s the same for everyone who picks up his book. It was a great privilege to hear Seng Ty talk about his story, “The Years of Zero—Coming of Age Under the Khmer Rouge.” I highly recommend the book because it is so inspiring and made was a reality check to how truly privileged I am. I have never witnessed anything close to the things he has seen or the hardships he faced as a child. It is truly amazing how Seng not only survived but wants to help other people around the world. Seng’s message of compassion rings clear throughout the book and it’s a real eye opener that keeps you constantly on the edge of your seat with a tissue box close by.