Rithy Panh, Christophe Bataille translated from the French by John Cullen

The Elimination

A survivor of the Khmer Rouge confronts his past and the commandant of the killing fields

Publication Date: Feb 12, 2013

288 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $18.95
ISBN: 9781590516751


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ISBN: 9781590515587


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ISBN: 9781590515594

From the Oscar-nominated director of The Missing Picture, a survivor’s autobiography that confronts the evils of the Khmer Rouge dictatorship

Rithy Panh was only thirteen years old when the Khmer Rouge expelled his family from Phnom Penh in 1975. In the months and years that followed, his entire family was executed, starved, or worked to death. Thirty years later, after having become a respected filmmaker, Rithy Panh decides to question one of the men principally responsible for the genocide, Comrade Duch, who’s neither an ordinary person nor a demon—he’s an educated organizer, a slaughterer who talks, forgets, lies, explains, and works on his legacy. This confrontation unfolds into an exceptional narrative of human history and an examination of the nature of evil. The Elimination stands among the essential works that document the immense tragedies of the twentieth century, with Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man and Elie Wiesel’s Night.

Excerpt from The Elimination

In the interviews we often bring up the works of Karl Marx, which Duch knows and admires. Me: “Mr. Duch, who are the closest followers of Marxism?” Duch: “The illiterate.” People who can’t read are the “closest” followers of Marxism. They’re the ones who are in arms. And, I may add, they’re the ones who obey. Those who read have access to words, to history, and to the history of words. They know that language shapes, flatters, conceals, enthralls. He who reads reads language itself; he perceives its duplicity, its cruelty, its betrayal. He knows that a slogan is just a slogan. And he’s seen others. *** In 1975, I was thirteen years old and happy. My father had been the chief undersecretary to several ministers of edu­cation in succession; now he was retired, and a member of the senate. My mother cared for their nine children. My parents, both of them descended from peasant families, be­lieved in knowledge. More than that: they had a taste for it. We lived in a house in a suburb close to Phnom Penh. Ours was a life of ease, with books, newspapers, a radio, and eventually a black-and-white television. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were destined to be designated— after the Khmer Rouge entered the capital on April 17 of that year—as “new people,” which meant members of the bourgeoisie, intellectuals, landowners. That is, oppres­sors who were to be reeducated in the countryside—or exterminated. Overnight I become “new people,” or (according to an even more horrible expression) an “April 17.” Millions of us are so designated. That date becomes my registration number, the date of my birth into the proletarian revolu­tion. The history of my childhood is abolished. Forbidden. From that day on, I, Rithy Panh, thirteen years old, have no more history, no more family, no more emotions, no more thoughts, no more unconscious. Was there a name? Was there an individual? There’s nothing anymore. What a brilliant idea, to give a hated class a name full of hope: new people. This huge group will be transformed by the revolution. Transmuted. Or wiped out forever. As for the “old people” or “ordinary people” they’re no longer backward and downtrodden, they become the model to follow—men and women working the lands their ances­tors worked or bending over machine tools, revolutionar­ies rooted in practical life. The “old people” are the heirs of the great Khmer Empire. They are ageless. They built Angkor. They threw its stone images into the jungle and into the water. The women stoop in the rice fields. The men build and repair dikes. They fulfill themselves in and by what they do. They’re charged with reeducating us and they have absolute power over us. The flag of Democratic Kampuchea (the country’s new name) bears not a hammer and sickle but an image of the great temple of Angkor. “For more than two thousand years, the Khmer people have lived in utter destitution and the most complete discouragement. . . . If our people were capable of building Angkor Wat, then they are capable of doing anything.” (Pol Pot, in a speech broadcast on the radio.) How many people died on the building sites of the twelfth century? Nobody knows. But what they built ex­pressed a spiritual power and elevation utterly absent from the creations of the Khmer Rouge.

“An unsettling, probing, morally urgent reflection on the Khmer Rouge years.” —New York Review of Books

“The power of The Elimination lies in the telling details Mr. Panh employs to describe the madness of these years, when the Khmer Rouge worked to destroy every vestige of individuality… a searing, firsthand account of the Cambodian genocide and as such an important contribution to the history of those years. It is also an examination of the nature of evil as told from the perspectives of a victim and a perpetrator.” —Wall Street Journal

“Like no other book, The Elimination reminds us why it is crucial to study history, why education should be a nation’s highest priority, and why nothing is more important than culture and the arts. Masterfully written with the language and pacing necessary to tell such a story, The Elimination needs to be read by anyone who reads books—and more importantly, by those who don’t.” —The Coffin Factory

“An exceptional document of Primo Levi’s caliber … Rithy Panh’s book, The Elimination, through its strength, the starkness of its language, and the depths of its mystery, shows its significance.” —Elle

“Harrowing personal reflections by the Cambodian French filmmaker of surviving the Khmer Rouge as a young teenager…A riveting, intimate look deep inside the machinery of the executioner.” —Kirkus

“In this astounding work, Rithy Panh presents the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime as universal human history, intelligible to us all thanks to the extraordinary efforts of an individual.” —Timothy Snyder, bestselling author ofBloodlands

“The Elimination is a searing, firsthand account of the Cambodian genocide and as such an important contribution to the history of those years. It is also an examination of the nature of evil as told from the perspectives of a victim and a perpetrator.” —Hudson Institute

“Having survived the ‘killing fields,’ Rithy Panh now illuminates them, both through his own wrenching recollections and his extraordinary interviews with Comrade Duch, a banal mastermind behind the Cambodian genocide. That The Elimination is so elegantly understated makes it even more searing—and essential.” —David Margolick, journalist and author of Elizabeth and Hazel

“This is a great text, humble in tone and with universal import. We greet it today in the tradition of Jean Hatzfeld. For his part, Rithy Panh takes his place among those rare figures who have shared Vladimir Jankélévitch’s conviction: it’s not enough to be sublime, one must be faithful and serious.” —Le Monde

“In the tradition of a Primo Levi or a Solzhenitsyn, the Franco-Cambodian cinéaste Rithy Panh has published an exceptional testimony in which he tells of how he survived the genocide orchestrated by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979.” —Le Figaro

“With the help of Christophe Bataille, the Cambodian cinéaste Rithy Panh, having survived the Khmer Rouge massacres of the terrible years 1975–1979, gives us an incredibly powerful book. A book? More like a punch in the stomach! … It is also a book with caustic intelligence, the slow deconstruction of a mad system … this book will remain inscribed in me as major.” —La Libération