Cambodia's Curse: The Hidden History of a Troubled Land

Joel Brinkley, PublicAffairs, $27.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-58648-787-4
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Brinkley takes on the pricey pitfalls of nation building and the labyrinth of centuries-old political corruption in this riveting piece of literary reportage. At once a tale of human tragedy and a primer on the future of Western engagement with developing—and autocratic—countries, the book offers a rare look inside a country beleaguered by poverty and imprisoned by patronage and venal leadership since the 13th century; traumatized by colonialism, Pol Pot's brutal Khmer Rouge, and the genocide he unleashed (and later by Vietnam, which overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979). Brinkley is merciless in his critique of both Cambodia's leadership as well as the folly of donor countries that placed faith in the U.N. to bring Cambodia into a modern, democratic era. He expresses empathy for "the most abused people in the world," many of whom are in the grip of post-traumatic stress disorders after Pol Pot's reign of terror, but he saves his mercenary eye for the corrupt leaders, including present dictator Hun Sen, who continue to suppress and exploit the country's resources and young, vital population. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/28/2011
Release date: 04/01/2011
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