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The Years of Zero: Coming of Age Under the Khmer Rouge

By Seng Ty

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ISBN (13 digit): 978-1492286738
Publisher: Seng Ty
Publish date: 2/14/14
Page count: 240
Price: $17.00 (print), $7.99 (eBook)



“I thought I knew Seng’s story after we met him in Cambodia to shoot a segment for 60 Minutes. His book has taught me how little I knew and how every detail adds to the miraculous nature of it all.” – BOB SIMON, correspondent on CBS 60 Minutes

“An inspiring story of my good friend Seng Ty who survived the Killing Fields. His story not only describes the terrible experience, but it has funny parts and humor as well.” – ARN CHORN-POND, The Flute Player

“I first met Seng Ty in 1981 while working as a psychologist in a Thai refugee camp. His hopeful demeanor and terrifying story of survival were so powerful that I felt compelled to help him get to America. Now, over thirty years later, this young man extrapolates the characteristics of his survival spirit that carried him from a middle class existence through the murder of his family and his trek to safety through dangerous Khmer Rouge territory. Seng Ty is one of my heroes—and The Years of Zero is a must read for those of us seeking insights into the resilience of the human spirit. “ -NEIL BOOTHBY, Professor at Columbia University

“As heartbreaking as it is uplifting, Seng Ty’s story about surviving the Khmer Rouge is unforgettable.” – PATRICIA McCORMICK, author Never Fall Down

“The story of Ty’s childhood will break your heart, just as it broke mine so many years ago, when I met him as a boy. But the story of Ty’s survival will renew your faith in the ability of filial love, human decency, and the life force to triumph over murderous hate. This is the story of a true redemption–of his parents’ sacrifice.” – MATTHEW NAYTHONS MD, Founder International Medical Team

“A survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime tells his story. In his debut memoir, Ty recounts his childhood in Cambodia. The youngest child in a middle-class doctor’s family, Ty was 7 when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. His family was among the thousands relocated to rural villages, where they were forced to renounce their Westernized habits and remake themselves as agricultural laborers, always under the threat of reprisals from their guards. Ty vividly describes the horrors of the Khmer Rouge violence, but his tone is almost matter-of-fact, swaying the reader through brutal facts more than wrenching emotions: “The Khmer Rouge would have been treated as backward peasants, as children from the jungle who had never known city life, except for one thing; they had guns.” Although the family fought to survive—taking risks to steal extra food, avoiding the guards’ notice—Ty ended up an orphan. His father was murdered and his mother died of malnutrition. He was separated from his older siblings—he later learned that several of them were also killed—and survived by himself, relying on intelligence, determination and a belief that his mother’s spirit was protecting him. Ty eventually made his way to the Khao-I-Dang refugee camp in Thailand, where American journalist Roger Rosenblatt featured him in an article in Time magazine. (Rosenblatt, who has remained in contact with Ty, writes the book’s introduction.) Ty’s eloquent description of his experience drew attention when the article was published in the United States. It inspired a woman named Marlena Brown to help settle Cambodian orphans in the United States. The Brown family adopted Ty, who writes compellingly of the cultural confusion and periods of adjustment that shaped his new life. His discomfort with indoor plumbing may bring a smile to the reader’s face, but when a camping vacation reminds him of his family’s jungle ordeal, the reader remembers how much he has endured. An engaging, open memoir of one child’s wartime experiences.” – Kirkus Review


The Years of Zero: Coming of Age Under the Khmer Rouge is a survivor’s account of the Cambodian genocide carried out by Pol Pot’s sadistic and terrifying Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. It follows the author, Seng Ty, from the age of seven as he is plucked from his comfortable, middle-class home in a Phnom Penh suburb, marched along a blistering, black strip of highway into the jungle, and thrust headlong into the unspeakable barbarities of an agricultural labor camp.

Seng’s mother was worked to death while his siblings succumbed to starvation. His oldest brother was brought back from France and tortured in the secret prison of Tuol Sleng. His family’s only survivor and a mere child, Seng was forced to fend for himself, navigating the brainwashing campaigns and random depravities of the Khmer Rouge, determined to survive so he could bear witness to what happened in the camp.

The Years of Zero guides the reader through the author’s long, desperate periods of harrowing darkness, each chapter a painting of cruelty, caprice, and courage. It follows Seng as he sneaks mice and other living food from the rice paddies where he labors, knowing that the penalty for such defiance is death. It tracks him as he tries to escape into the jungle, only to be dragged back to his camp and severely beaten. Through it all, Seng finds a way to remain whole both in body and in mind. He rallies past torture, betrayal, disease and despair, refusing at every juncture to surrender to the murderers who have stolen everything he had.

As The Years of Zero concludes, the reader will have lived what Seng lived, risked what he risked, endured what he endured, and finally celebrate with him his unlikeliest of triumphs.

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