Live to Tell is a gripping testimony from Sonita Zainal of bone true facts and emotional recollections; designed to show the world how even when only a young girl, from age five; for four years, with amazing grit and determination, she could endure and survive the horrendous Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia – eventually escaping through jungle infested landmines to United Nations refugee camps in Thailand.
After losing her beloved father when only six years old, and already a victim of opportunistic abuse, Sonita became a child slave to work in rice fields – constantly putting herself in danger; with determination and initiative, to avoid starvation – showing a stay alive against all odds attitude in desperation to survive, and being witness to barbaric atrocities of that crazed, murderous regime. So, in order to manage her own survival; relying only on personal initiative, Sonita quickly became an adult minded, responsible kid – with no natural childhood. She only remembers two playthings; one she would rather have done without.
The writer has presented shocking and unbelievable – yet unfortunately true stories, of victims and survivors of that barbaric and misguided regime; showing herself to be deeply empathetic to those – particularly women – who were themselves young at that time, and now live everyday with haunting memories of their traumatic experiences – often, the loss of innocent loved ones. She has returned a number of times; of which she writes, to connect and research with survivors and family members in her birth and neighbouring countries.
Sonita expresses her sadness to see, decades later, so many of those survivors still living in poverty – often on their own; having had husbands murdered by that regime, or now separated from enforced marriage to Khmer Rouge men – now struggling on with determination to survive and make the best of their lives for themselves and any children they may have; who often are helping their mothers or aunties to the best of their abilities. The writer shows how deeply touched she is when seeing, or meeting, desperate children scrounging for food items; or even more so, older ones, striving committedly with focused determination and initiative, to improve their own or family living conditions and life prospects. Which, as she states, reminds her so poignantly of her own survival endeavours, when in similar circumstances, at the same age span – and is so powerfully written about. She inspires as an admirable example of the fortitude of destitute children, who show that they are determined to never give up; in any adverse situation.
Sonita writes to clearly show how she thought and reacted, in those continually dangerous and unstable childhood years – being always mindful to not overstate with knowledge that she did not have at the time; and if not having detailed memory of an event, always mentions so, when complementing her story with later adult knowledge and insight. The book is not just a sequence of stories of events, but is impregnated with profound reflected understanding of behaviours and inspirational teaching; to give it worthy credit of being a meritorious literature. It is cleverly written, in the manner of the author’s child mind, at the time of events portrayed – she is even able to show some fun and humour; as a child may naturally seek to express – even in appalling circumstances. Sonita impresses with her candid honesty; giving stark exposure of dreadful life situations; that most of us from secure backgrounds, would find hard to imagine. Readers are sure to be captivated and enthralled by this book; finding it hard to put down until read. Those who have had a difficult childhood, will find an understanding, compassionate and inspiring friend.