The Foreigner's Confession Book Review
By Lya Badgley
After completing this book, I had to sit with its mental images and emotions for a while before writing this review. Reading it is an invitation to witness. This novel takes up the Khmer Rouge’s brutal torture and genocide of thousands of Cambodians during its civil war. Written as a dual timeline, the story moves between present-day Emily, an American human rights worker, and Milijana, a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. The events carry the authenticity of the author drawing from her own experience documenting genocide records and interviewing insurgents in the nineties. The result is a brilliant, multi-layered novel. It explores the tension between Western and Khmer cultures; otherworldly ghosts and journalistic facts; and the idealism of Communism’s nirvana promise and its degradation in the hands of tyrants. The writing is sensuous: We smell the rank odor of the torture cells and feel the clamminess of heavy humidity. And through it all, Emily’s pursuit of truth, which is caught up with Milijana’s gradually unraveled story, drove me to keep the pages turning. I love how the author’s love for this country and its people shine through the pages. I love her sensitivity and honesty in writing about fragile, horrific events. But most of all, I love the hope that the more books such as these are written, the closer humankind can get to ending horrific acts.