Monday, August 18, 2008

Golden Bones: A Truly Inspirational Story

Golden Bones (HarperCollins), Sichan Siv's new autobiographical account of his escape from the Killing Fields of Cambodia to find extradordinary success in America, is one of the most inspirational stories ever.

Siv grew up in a middle class family in a village near Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. After working his way through college, he eventually landed a job at the international relief agency CARE. When Pol Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia in 1975, Siv's close-knit family was split apart and forced to return to the countryside to perform slave labor. The Khmer Rouge would eventually cause the deaths of up to 2 million Cambodians--over a fifth of the population--through execution, starvation and forced labor. Since the Khmer Rouge systematically murdered the most educated members of society, Siv had to hide his educated background at all costs.

Knowing that he would eventually be discovered and murdered, Siv plotted a daring escape into Thailand. He had to bicycle his way from the southeast corner of Cambodia all the way to the northwest corner, hiding in the forests and outwitting the murderous Khmer Rouge every step of the way. After finally making his way to a town near the border, he laid low until he found his chance to escape. He hid in the back of a truck that was transporting logs near the border, jumped off at what he thought was the appropriate moment, but got his shirt caught. After being dragged by the truck for about a mile, he finally broke free and miraculously escaped detection. He then broke into a mad dash through a mine-infested forest and eventually made it into Thailand.

After living in a refugee camp in Thailand, Siv was allowed to enter the U.S. as a refugee in 1976. After working as a migrant farm worker and burger flipper in Connecticut, he moved to New York and became a taxi driver. It was there that he learned that his worst fears had in fact been realized: virtually his entire family, including his elderly mother, his brother, his sister and their families, had been clubbed to death back in Cambodia.

Siv managed to win a scholarship at the prestigious international affairs graduate program at Columbia University. By 1989, just 13 years after he arrived in the U.S. virtually penniless, he was appointed by President George H.W. Bush as Deputy Assistant to the President for Public Liaison. Golden Bones recounts Siv's triumphant but sad return to Cambodia as a high-ranking White House official, and his subsequent service under President George W. Bush as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social Council.

Sad Commentary recommends that everyone read Golden Bones, which is full of dramatic twists and turns that are stranger than fiction. It would make a great movie. The question, however, is whether Hollywood today is capable of making a movie that could capture Siv's unabashed love for America without snickering. If every American could see this country through Sichan Siv's eyes, we would all be a lot more thankful for our blessings.

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