Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Birthday to Exiled: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to California and Back (Potomac Books, 2018) by Katya Cengel.
About the Book:
San Tran Croucher’s earliest memories are of fleeing ethnic attacks in her Vietnamese village, only to be later tortured in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge.
Katya Cengel met San when San was seventy-five years old and living in California, having miraculously survived the Cambodian genocide with her three daughters, Sithy, Sithea, and Jennifer. But San’s family’s troubles didn’t end after their resettlement in California. As a teenager under the Khmer Rouge, San’s daughter Sithy had been the family’s savior, the strong one who learned how to steal food to keep them alive. In the United States, Sithy’s survival skills were best suited for a life of crime, and she was eventually jailed for drug possession. U.S. immigration law enforces deportation of any immigrant or refugee who is found guilty of certain illegal activities, and San has hired a lawyer to fight Sithy’s deportation case. Only time will tell if they are successful.
In Exiled Cengel follows the stories of four Cambodian families, including San’s, as they confront criminal deportation forty years after their resettlement in the United States. Weaving together these stories into a single narrative, Cengel finds that violence comes in many forms and that trauma is passed down through generations. With no easy answers, Cengel reveals a cycle of violence, followed by safety, and then loss.
“Cengel’s book focuses entirely on the experiences of the Cambodian-American community, but it speaks more broadly to the current debate over the wider immigration crisis.” —Foreign Policy
“A powerful and timely book on the generational impact of a particularly brutal chapter of the twentieth century—the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s. Exiled moves seamlessly from the killing fields of Cambodia to American immigrant communities, adding texture and perspective to the current debate on refugees, political asylum, cultural assimilation, and the deportation of Americanized immigrant criminals. Cengel humanizes this debate, bringing a deeper understanding of these hot-button issues. I strongly recommend this book.” —Melvin Claxton, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist
“Bouncing between the killing fields of 1970s Cambodia and present-day America, Cengel powerfully evokes how the aftershocks of trauma can span continents, nations, and generations.” —Pacific Standard
“A timely examination of the issue of deportation of Cambodian refugees forty years after their resettlement in the United States. . . . Cengel’s book shows there are no easy answers as families say goodbye to their sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers who are forced to return to a Cambodia that some of them never knew or that others hoped never to see again.” —Rumpus
On the blog:
- From the Desk of Katya Cengel: Timing is Everything
- Asian Pacific Heritage Month: A Difficult History
- From the Desk of Katya Cengel: Telling Refugee Stories
A Word from the Author:
More than anything else, Exiled is a book about families, specifically families within the Cambodian American community. It is not a community to which I belong and as a journalist researching and writing the book I made a point of maintaining my outsider status. But when Exiled came, things changed.
As I presented the book alongside community members I felt less like an outsider observing the community and more like a welcomed guest. At a signing at the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles I shared the stage with two families I had followed in the book, that of San Croucher and David Ros. In the audience were four generations of San’s family, all of who welcomed me into their family pictures.
While none of the other signings featured great grandchildren beside their great grandmother, almost every signing had someone who included me in their family or community story. At Orinda Books I spoke alongside Chen Kong-Wick, who successfully fought her younger brother’s deportation order. At Book Passage in Corte Madera I shared the stage with Anoop Prasad and Ny Nourn of Asian Law Caucus. I paired up with Anoop again for an interview on Public Radio International’s The Takeaway and with David again for a piece on Forum with Michael Krasny on NPR affiliate KQED. At Long Beach’s annual Cambodia Town parade I was seated next to former Cambodian minister Song Chhang. It was at the parade that I met Olary Yim, who helped me bring Angelina Jolie’s Cambodian genocide film “First they Killed my Father” to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
I had earlier given several talks on campus about the Cambodian genocide and Exiled. At one of these events a freshmen shared her family’s own story of immigration. Later she told me she ordered a copy of Exiled, but it was delivered to someone else. Apparently the recipient frequently receives packages meant for Cal Poly students. On this occasion the resident sent a thank you card to the student letting her know how much she enjoyed Exiled. I in turn gave the student one of my copies, touched by her family story and that of the misplaced book.
In the year ahead I am excited to hear more family stories—and maybe a few lost book stories as well, although I have to warn you all my author copies have been used.