"Never Fall Down" by Patricia McCormick tells the stories of Khmer Rouge survivors. (Image courtesy of HarperCollins)
Westview High School

Review: ‘Never Fall Down’ brings a new perspective of Khmer Rouge

The Communist Party of the Khmer Rouge (CPK) took control of Cambodia on April 17, 1975.

According to the Cambodia Tribunal Monitor, The Khmer Rouge created the state of Democratic Kampuchea in 1976 and ruled the country until January 1979. The party’s existence was kept secret until 1977, and no one outside the CPK knew who its leaders were. 

While the Khmer Rouge was in power, they set up policies that disregarded human life and produced repression and massacres on a massive scale. They turned the country into a detention center, which later became a graveyard for nearly 2 million people, including their own members and leaders. 

In the book “Never Fall Down” by Patricia McCormick, she interviewed Arn Chorn-Pond, a survivor of Khmer Rouge, and wrote about his experience, what he went through, and how he survived it. 

Before the Khmer Rouge, Chorn-Pond was selling ice cream with his brother and dancing to rock ‘n’ roll in his hometown of Cambodia. However, after the soldiers came and marched the whole town to the countryside, he was separated from his family and sent to work in a paddy field labor camp. While working there, Chorn-Pond saw other children weak from hunger and dying before his eyes, and he learned to be invisible to the Khmer Rouge, who can easily take life on a whim. 

One day, one of the soldiers asked if anyone could play instruments, and Chorn-Pond, who has never played a note in his life before, volunteered. He had to quickly master the revolutionary songs the soldiers demanded in order to survive. Just as the country was about to get liberated from the Khmer Rouge, he was handed a gun and forced to become a soldier. Throughout these events, Chorn-Pond told himself over and over again to never fall down

Retelling his story, McCormick wrote this book through the first-person perspective, so the storyteller was Chorn-Pond, and he told the stories from his own real experiences. This method adds a lot to the book overall because it makes the readers feel like they are experiencing the event themselves. By using the first-person perspective to narrate a story, it’s effective in giving readers a sense of closeness to the character. 

In the events of the Khmer Rouge, the author is letting the readers dive deeper into the story and letting them experience it while reading it. The writing style and vocabulary and grammar usage were meant to capture Chorn-Pond’s voice throughout the book, and you can tell his age and some basic facts about him just from the style. 

Another important aspect of using the first-person perspective is that it lets the readers connect with the character through emotions. Chorn-Pond described his emotions countless times throughout the different events he experienced, and that let the readers connect with him on another level, and it helped draw the readers into the book more.

If the readers can relate to the emotions a character is feeling, then it gets them more interested in the book and wanting to read more. With the way Chorn-Pond described his emotions, you can feel the times when he felt helpless, sad, angry, and confused. 

After I finished binge reading this book, I felt shocked and was in disbelief that what was described in the book were actual events that happened. When I first started reading it, I thought it was a fictional story, so I was shocked to realize it was actually non-fiction.

Reading about Chorn-Pond’s story made me want to research more about the Khmer Rouge and what had happened. 

For me personally, I had never heard of the Khmer Rouge until I read this book, and now I feel like I’ve vicariously lived it through McCormick’s capturing of Chorn-Pond’s experiences. Reading a first-person perspective book like this instead of a historical analysis feels like I have also lived through this tragic event, and even though it doesn’t explain what the Khmer Rouge was directly, I could tell what happened just by the emotions that Arn felt and the way that he described his experiences.

This book displays Chorn-Pond’s courage, hope, and bravery through the toughest times. 

Personally, I would rather read a book like this instead of historical analysis because this way I can get a deeper understanding of how the people who lived through it felt, what they had to sacrifice, and what they did to get through this tragic time.

It’s important to know what happened and what the citizens of Cambodia had to go through because their story is a human story that we should all learn from as one of the painful lessons of history. 

Overall, the book left me wanting to know more about what happened and why it happened. I would definitely recommend this book to others to read because, before this book, I had never heard of this event or knew that it had happened.