Year of the Rabbit by Tian Veasna is a stunning graphic novel detailing the true story of one family’s struggle to survive under the Khmer Rouge. Veasna himself was born in 1975, three days after the Khmer Rouge came to power. This is his family’s story.
We follow this middle-class family as they are forced to leave Phnom Penh and all their belongings behind. Life in the countryside is one of hard labor, scarce food, and the constant threat and presence of violence. So palpable in the pages is the sense of uncertainty: were their family members alive, would they ever be reunited, what would the future bring, would they ever be safe.
Movement is sharply curtailed by the Khmer Rouge. Children are encouraged to spy and report on “wrongdoing.” Every word could be turned against its speaker. People are sent to their death for being “class traitors.” Small details are devastating. At times it can be difficult to keep reading, the fear and dread so palpable it jumps off the page and you can feel your heart clench in anguish over what might happen next.
Veasna exposes all that is hard and terrible and tragic about this period, but there is also hope. Small kindnesses prove to be saving graces. Old friends come in contact again and offer honest help. His parents persevere and eventually make the difficult and risky choice to leave Cambodia and become refugees, reuniting with parts of their family during the process, while learning of the deaths of others.
In the epilogue, Veasna recounts his conversations with family members, including those who refuse to discuss it, irreparably and inescapably scarred. It’s a sobering and deeply personal reflection on how the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror reverberated into his family’s life through to today. And a testament to the author’s guiding conviction: “But who will remember you after you are gone?”