The lives of the Cambodian people during the Lon Nol regime, the emergence of civil conflicts, the genocide during the Khmer Rouge regime are all still in the memory of the people in this present day. And though it has been decades since these atrocities ended, big parts of the pain still linger especially among those who experienced them first hand.
This is how Patricia McCormick decided to write “Never Fall Down”, a novel that tells the story of one of the victims of the brutal times, Arn Chorn-Pond.
The heartbreaking book gives its readers a wide view of the Cambodian society during its dark era. The author broke the stories into chapters, following how Arn faced and overcame all the struggles that he had been put into.
Arn was still at a tender age during the Khmer Rouge. But his young and innocent perspective on what was happening in his country made the book feel more real and more heartfelt.
Born in Battambang province, Arn had been through a difficult childhood – selling ice cream for a living. He was not able to attend school like the other normal children in the neighborhood. But his passion to learn was on fire. He eventually found a way to study in a pagoda and emerged as the most outstanding student.
Arn was part of a family of artists. Based on the book, his childhood, though poor, was full of Khmer songs and happy memories with his family. He had an artist’s blood running in his veins, and he was happy about it. Until the America dropped a bomb into Cambodia. People rushed into evacuation centres. The book describes the shock and fear people felt as they made their way to safe places.
After the bombing, a new leadership rose – Angkar. People never knew of it before, but they accepted the regime as if it was the only way they can be saved. People were forced to work non-stop, girls were asked to cut their hairs short, colourful clothes were burned. During the Angkar, no money, school, artist, pagoda were allowed to exist.
Never Fall Down also reveals how learning Khem saved Arn’s life. Being an innate artist, Arn found himself hooked into Khem and used it to create songs of revolution. But his talent was used by the Angkar to hide its brutality.
Most of the time, his band was told to play out loud in order to hide the scream of people as they were killed by axes.
In order to help others, he agreed to sleep with a Khmer Rouge girl in exchange for sugar, which during that time, a prized possession that can make people happy and hopeful.
Through his talent, Arn was able to save not just himself, but the lives of many other people.
Arn eventually escaped to Thailand where he met Peter Pond, the man who adopted him and gave him a new life the US.
The book also tells about the trauma and discrimination Arn had to endure in the foreign land. But with all that he had been through and with his father’s genuine kindness, Arn was able to rise up again. He then decided to tell his story to others.
To give back to his homeland, Arn returned to Cambodian soil. He founded Cambodian Living Arts – with funds he got from his international talks – and now continues to inspire other Cambodian artists to rise from ashes and be heard.