The novel “Krom Domnok Teouk Pleang” (Under the Raindrops) was written by the talented, multi-award winning author Um Sophanny. In 1989, “Krom Domnok Teouk Pleang” won third prize in the January 7 literature competition.
While many novels seem to spring entirely from the imaginations of their authors, this book is different in that it is based closely on actual aspects of life during the Khmer Rouge regime, including torture, starvation, forced labour — including of children — and forced marriage. It depicts the regime’s abandoning of currency, banning of religious observance through the destruction of pagodas and the torture of monks, and the forcible evacuation of the cities.
The book also depicts Khmer Rouge cadres’ brutal killing of any civilians accused of disloyalty or treason, often just for minor violations such as a man and woman engaging in conversation. A friend of the character Da is taken away at 1 am and killed because she had engaged in conversation with a man during the day.
When young people reach the age of 25, they are forced into a marriage arranged by “Angka” (the Organisation, as the Khmer Rouge was known), often with a spouse they have never met. In one of the many scenes of the book that provide clear details of what it was like to live during that time, Angka arranges a small event at which the new couple are offered a small amount of cake and some other food to mark the marriage.
The book depicts such a new couple, who are allowed to live together for just three days before being married. Soldiers are assigned to spy on new couples at night; if they refuse to sleep together, they are killed immediately.
Like many other girls, the character Khun is older than her arranged husband, Pichet (in her case, five years older). Though she is afraid and wants to flee the arranged marriage, she can’t because she knows Pichet will be killed — along with her — if she does.
In another scene, we see how inadequate and unhygienic the medical facilities were at that time. When Khun’s sister gets sick she is treated very badly by the hospital. The day after her wedding, Khun and Pichet visit her there, but her condition worsens daily.
After three days, Ms Khun starts to fall in love with Pichet, a Khmer Rouge soldier, because he is humble and caring. But soon he is ordered to go on a mission. It is meant to last 15 days, but he does not return.
Besides showing the terrible conditions that existed under the Khmer Rouge, along with the possibility of love, the author tries to show the resilience of the Khmer people’s culture of sharing, of their ability to help each other under even the worst circumstances.
Khun is treated as a widow until the Khmer Rouge regime is ended by the arrival of the Vietnamese Army. Even five years after their separation, she thinks about Pichet daily. It turns out, however, that Pichet was not killed; by chance, Khun comes across him. They get married properly and live happily together.