Never Fall Down
By Patricia McCormick
(Balzer + Bray, Hardcover, 9780061730931, May 2012, 224pp.)
The Short of It:
McCormick delivers a heartbreaking account of survival.
The Rest of It:
Never Fall Down is about Arn Chorn-Pond and how he survived the Cambodian Genocide under the Khmer Rouge. I know many of you have read about the Cambodian Genocide before. There are lots of books on the subject, but what struck me about this one is that it’s tied to music and it’s told in novel form, but based on true events.
Arn and his family are forced to leave their home with thousands of others, to march along the road with just a few possessions and very little food. Their journey goes on for a very long time. Their only order is to keep walking. As the people around them die of dehydration and lack of food, Arn, eleven at the time, is forced to witness the countless killings of those too weak to continue. When Arn is chosen by the Khmer Rouge to play an instrument, he feels as if his life depends on it, and it does. He learns to play the khim, a rather difficult instrument to pick up, and as a result, falls in favor with some of the Khmer soldiers.
However, this brief respite (if you can even call it that) does not shield him from the horrors of war. Every day, someone is killed. Kids he’s come to know, or music teachers or other educated people. His slow starvation and the effects of malnutrition begin to take their toll. But through it all, Arn remains positive, hopeful even. When given a tiny bit of food, he opts to give it to those who need it more. But when forced to take up arms and fight alongside the Khmer Rouge, he becomes what he calls “a tiger” which is something he regrets and probably one of the hardest things he has to work through once he makes it to the States.
Arn’s story is truly amazing. His strong-willed personality and his love of music is what sets him apart. This was a tough read because of the subject matter, but McCormick’s decision to tell it in novel form gives the reader the distance he/she needs to experience the horrors but from a few paces back. Also, this isn’t a one-sided retelling of what we’ve all read before. This book touches on members of the Khmer Rouge and one soldier in particular that helps Arn survive his horrible ordeal.
The other thing to point out, is that this book was initially geared towards younger readers. Because of this, the material is very easy to read but at the same time, gives you a lot to consider and discuss. My book club discussed the book last night and we had the opportunity to do a teleconference with a survivor, which really added to the discussion. The book gives you a very realistic account of what went on during that time. There is also some humor and a lot of heartbreak. I listened to a portion on audio and it was a very emotional experience. I highly recommend the book and audio. It was a National Book Award finalist in 2012.
If you are interested in Arn’s story, I suggest you check out this video to get a good sense of the author’s purpose as well as Arn’s message to “never fall down” to always rise up.
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