THE ATLANTIC MAGAZINE
THE YEAR OF ZERO
- “An engaging, open memoir of one child’s wartime experiences.” —Kirkus Reviews
- The 2019 Book Chosen by Bunker Hill Community College
The Years of Zero—Coming of Age Under the Khmer Rouge is a survivor’s account of the Cambodian genocide carried out by Pol Pot’s sadistic and terrifying Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s. It follows the author, Seng Ty, from the age of seven as he is plucked from his comfortable, middle-class home in a Phnom Penh suburb, marched along a blistering, black strip of highway into the jungle, and thrust headlong into the unspeakable barbarities of an agricultural labor camp.
Seng’s mother was worked to death while his siblings succumbed to starvation. His oldest brother was brought back from France and tortured in the secret prison of Tuol Sleng. His family’s only survivor and a mere child, Seng was forced to fend for himself, navigating the brainwashing campaigns and random depravities of the Khmer Rouge, determined to survive so he could bear witness to what happened in the camp.
The Years of Zero guides the reader through the author’s long, desperate periods of harrowing darkness, each chapter a painting of cruelty, caprice, and courage. It follows Seng as he sneaks mice and other living food from the rice paddies where he labors, knowing that the penalty for such defiance is death. It tracks him as he tries to escape into the jungle, only to be dragged back to his camp and severely beaten. Through it all, Seng finds a way to remain whole both in body and in mind. He rallies past torture, betrayal, disease and despair, refusing at every juncture to surrender to the murderers who have stolen everything he had.
As The Years of Zero concludes, the reader will have lived what Seng lived, risked what he risked, endured what he endured, and finally celebrate with him his unlikeliest of triumphs.
PRAISE FOR THE YEARS OF ZERO
“I thought I knew Seng’s story after we met him in Cambodia to shoot a segment for “60 Minutes.” His book has taught me how little I knew and how every detail adds to the miraculous nature of it all.”
— Bob Simon
correspondent on CBS 60 Minutes
“ An inspiring story of my good friend Seng Ty who survived the Killing Fields. His story not only describes the terrible experience, but it has funny parts and humor as well.”
— ARN CHORN-POND
the Flute Player & co-author Never Fall Down
“ I first met Seng Ty in 1981 while working as a psychologist in a Thai refugee camp. His hopeful demeanor and terrifying story of survival were so powerful that I felt compelled to help him get to America. Now, over thirty years later, this young man extrapolates the characteristics of his survival spirit that carried him from a middle class existence in Kampong Speu Province through the murder of his family and his trek to safety through dangerous Khmer Rouge territory. Seng Ty is one of my heroes—and The Years of Zero; Coming of Age under the Khmer Rouge is a must read for those of us seeking insights into the resilience of the human spirit. “
— NEIL BOOTHBY
Allan Rosenfield Professor of Public Health Columbia University
“As heartbreaking as it is uplifting, Seng Ty’s story about surviving the Khmer Rouge is unforgettable.”
— PATRICIA McCORMICK
author, Never Fall Down
“The story of Ty’s childhood will break your heart, just as it broke mine so many years ago, when I met him as a boy. But the story of Ty’s survival will renew your faith in the ability of filial love, human decency, and the life force to triumph over murderous hate. This is the story of a true redemption–of his parents’ sacrifice.”
— MATTHEW NAYTHONS MD
founder, International Medical Team & Award winning photojournalist, TIME magazine
“Seng Ty’s compelling memoir gives us all faith that the American dream can still be realized. His harrowing story of triumph over the horrors of the Pol Pot regime and humility as he adjusts to modern American life reaffirms the strength of the human spirit and gives hope to a new American life reaffirms the strength of the human spirit and gives hope to a new generation of Cambodian-Americans.”
— MARTY MEEHAN
Former U.S Congressman
“ A remarkable tale of resiliency and hope, Seng Ty’s first book does more that shine a light on the atrocities of war in Cambodia. He offers a glimpse of humanity in its worst form and shows that the human spirit is not easily broken.”
— MATT MURPHY
“I have just finished your book and was deeply touched by it. I cried four times whilst reading it, and the bits that made me cry the most was the descriptions of your relationship with your mother. It is clear that she made such an impact on you, and her spirit really did protect you in your darkest times. What you went through during the regime was absolutely horrific, but it is so inspiring how you managed to stay positive and resilient. The book also reminded me at times of books that I have read by North Korean escapees.Thank you for sharing your story.”—Katherine
“ Tonight I have finished reading your book. If ever you visit Ireland, I would be priviliged to meet you.I have read many accounts of survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Your book tells your story with startling honesty. Feels like I travelled the journey with you.” —Colm
“Seng, even though I knew a little of your story, reading “The Years of Zero: gave me such a better understanding of all the horror you endured in your young life, and the lives of all the good people in Cambodia during that terrible time in history. It is a true testament to your parents that you could survive and become who you are today. I wish you great success with your book. It is so well written and such a compelling story is hard to put down.” —Janice
“I finished your book a while back — what an incredible story. I’ve already recommended it to a few friends.I think yours is an important book for anybody who wants to understand the history of Cambodia to read. How old were you during the 1975 yo 1979 years? I know you were very young, and survive what you did is incredible.I’m sure you know your story has the potential to be a film. Have you shown it to a script writer?–Richard
“I just wanted to tell you that I read your book and was so inspired by it. It was so well written, captivating, and authentic. I am so glad that your book was published. Today, I was working with and ESL teacher at Lowell High and I used the first paragraph in Chapter 27 to launch the class. It was an intermediate ESL class. They could relate to your story so well so I left the book with the classroom teacher to continue the story with them. I hope that you can find time to write a sequel. I would like to hear more about how you have adjusted to this American life.”—Carrie
“The kids were very interested and had questions about Cambodia & the Khmer Rouge that we tried to answer. I’m pretty sure it was the highlight of their year-long study of immigration. They didn’t have time to read the whole book but were able to read passages. The teacher is considering making it a larger part of the curriculum for next year, where I would assume that they would read the whole thing. You are a great storyteller and have a background that’s truly amazing & inspiring. Thanks you again for talking to us.—Todd
“I have just finished reading your book. I started it last night and finished it this morning. I cried through a lot of it, but could not put it down. I am so very glad you put your life’s story in print and I wish everyone gets the chance to read it. You are a remarkable man and I wish you the best.”–Terry
“WOW! I just finished reading “The Year of Zero-Coming of Age Under the Khmer Rouge”. I couldn’t put it down! Well written and so informative and inspiring!! Congrats to you! I have so much respectfor you and the Cambodian people who went through so much. I would recommend to all to read and wish you success with the exposure of your story.”—Darlene
“This is a powerful and often deeply painful read. It is important to read these accounts of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia lest they be forgotten and repeated. I was and still am deeply awed by Mr. Seng Ty‘s resilience and unbreakable spirit even in the face of the brutality of his childhood experiences, glimpsed again and again throughout the pages of this memoir like brilliant flashes of light in the midst of a vast darkness. He is a very honorable and good-hearted person to have survived and triumphed, and is a great inspiration.”—Suzanna
“I did read your book. What a vivid, heart wrenching, powerful, inspiring, sad (yet at times funny), and ultimately uplifting story. I TRULY appreciate you sharing your story with me. I hope you’re finding that more and more people are reading the book. It is so important that your story is never forgotten.—Jon
“Glenn thought it was so well written and an amazing survival story. I also read it and couldn’t put it down. My heart went out to this young boy’s horrendous story of endurance.”—Glenn and Meredith
“I just want to thank you again for taking the time to speak to my class. It was a very special treat to be able to talk with you in person and learn more about your story and the writing The Years of Zero. As I said, I think your book is something unique, different from many of the other memoirs of KR survivors. Your special relationship with your mother and her spirit; your resolve to preserve your humanity and love for others despite the cruelty you endured; your will to bear witness; all of this combine to make your book an incredibly important contribution to Cambodian survival literature.” George Chigas, Ph.D.