Rambling about books

Book review: Never Fall Down, by Patricia McCormick

Book cover from Goodreads

You show you care, you die. You show you fear, you die. You show nothing, maybe you live.

A retelling of Arn Chorn-Pond childhood in Cambodia, surviving under the Pol Pot’s regime. Written by Patricia McCormick in a novel format surely gives this book a different breath from the others. What’s even unique, the author was writing, trying as close as possible, in the voice of Chorn-Pond himself. Though the book seems less promising than other books about the survivor of Pol Pot’s regime, this is not a book you should take lightly for there were more than enough of its gripping tales and hope weave into the darkness that once cloud Cambodia.

Any number of books covering the story of a survivor of horrific attack/regime/war etc. aims to inspire the reader; to tell them that even in the face of adversity, one can still hope for survival and strength to embrace it when it comes. And, yes, this was one of those book; it was an awe-inspiring and powerful book, written so simple that it touches your heart, shook your conscience, and scared the living out of you, while gives you that small moment of gratitude that here you are reading a book in the safe confine of your home when the people in the book could not even close their eyes for mere seconds for fear that death might strike them in those seconds where you give in to the temptation to give up all hope and happiness.

It’s hard to read about someone’s life unfurl before your eyes, to get inside their head, to try to understand how could one survive the many trials and tribulations and then to live to tell the story, and not relate to them. Maybe not in the level where they are, but I have to admit that reading Chorn-Pond’s life through the words of the author made me relate to what he had gone through and his reasoning behind it. It took me about several chapters before I realise that the English in this book was somewhat a bit ‘off’, until I put two and two together and realise that the author had chose to speak through Chorn-Pond’s voice, not just in retelling his story but also in his broken English. At first I find it a bit insulting for someone who speaks proper English to be writing about someone else’s story in ‘broken English’, that it seems she was taking a jab on Chorn-Pond’s lack of communicating English early on in his life. The more I read into the stories, the more I realised, it was never meant to be insulting, it was meant to rattle the reader to feel and be close to Chorn-Pond himself. This was a retelling of his story in the form of a novel, giving the author enough free reign in breathing life into the story, and by the end of the book, I have nothing to complain.

I’ve read another book about a survivor of Pol Pot’s regime, Stay Alive, My Son, and I found it to be extremely frightening and vividly detailed that it brought me nightmares for a couple of weeks after finishing the book. While Stay Alive, My Son was vividly detailed, Never Fall Down was not so much, but it still gave the same eerie feeling, and yet the latter seems to be much faster in recounting the events that happened. And while I would like to see more about the changes prior to the regime, I have nothing to complain about how fast paced this book was. It was actually quite a quick read on my part (even with the nightmares that were to follow after I finished the book).

I like the fact that the author focuses a lot on the need for survival throughout the book (hence the title, Never Fall Down, because the moment you do, you’re dead). It’s nice to read a book about a survivor talking about the importance of survival and how to survive was his/her end goal without having to sound pretentious and glorify his efforts of survival. Sometimes to survive is to have one feet in front of the other continuously, sometimes in order to survive requires no glory but only gore, and the author had covered that very well in this book.

There was one Khmer Rouge’s army in Chorn-Pond’s camp by the name of Sombo. While Chorn-Pond himself was quite an interesting person (especially his method of survival), I found that I am also intrigued by Sombo. Sombo reminds me of Werner Pffenig and Volkheimer in All the Light We Cannot See and Captain Beck in The Nightingale; a conflicted character in a questionable war, and realises too quickly that to survive is not to ask questions but to follow orders. No amount of killing can be justified just because one is under an order that if one does not follow the said order then one will die, but the complexity of what must be going on inside their heads and how they try, as best as they can, in finding the middle ground of what they believe and what they order is asking them for.

At the end of the day, the choices you made will determine where you will stand in your future. And more often than not, the choices you made are not admirable, but one must made peace with that and learn to right the wrong in the process. I think, that was what the book was trying to tell the reader. It is quite simple and seems easier said than done, no? But, isn’t life like that, anyway?

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️☆

Title: Never Fall Down

Author: Patricia McCormick

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Goodreads link


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