Cambodia remains a twilight nightmare, without hope or redemption for its suffering, without a future or a past.
Cambodians divide time itself into KR epochs: before the KR took power, during Democratic Kampuchea, and after. You’re driving around in Phnom Penh and someone in the car wonders whether a particular building was there “before” or “after.” Explaining a family history, the teller clarifies a point: her father was a truck driver “before,” not “after,” because he died “during” the KR. “Before” is pretty murky. It’s difficult to get answers to basic questions about the history, those facts that lie outside people’s personal stories. Were there writers and poets? Were there more books than there are today? Did Buddhism have more play in daily life, before the KR murdered all the monks? Was the language different? No one can really say. I heard someone speculate, for instance, that the vocabulary of respect for others was much more elaborate “before” the KR eviscerated the language with communist-speak. But there aren’t many people to ask, because so few Cambodians were fully formed adults “before.” The people who stumbled out of the camps were mostly the young.