Bou Meng: Free from the Past

Bou Meng, one of a handful of survivors in the former prison centre S-21, just launched a book about him today. From Kampong Cham province, Bou Meng joined the Khmer Rouge movement in the early 1970s until 1977 when his wife and he himself were arrested for allegedly being part of CIA agents in Cambodia.
I remember he said, “I’m delighted that my story can let everyone inside and outside Cambodia know the darkest year, so that this history chapter will not be repeated.” For Bou Meng, the book is a healing pill or a cure for his trauma that’s been with him ever since he’s released from S-21.
Mr. Huy Vannak, a former staff at the DC-Cam, a documentary centre that works on and stores many documents about the Khmer Rouge regime, authors the book about Bou Meng. Now, Vannak works as a TV anchor. Something remarkable happened that day. Vannak said that it’s his very first time to hear Bou Meng say that he’s now “free from the past.” As an audience, I was happy to hear that writing a book could somehow release negative feelings of a survivor of actrocities, whom I know had carried along many painful memories of the loss of his wife and children.
The book, as Huy Vannak said, is a combination of Bou Meng’s personal life in the regime that’s told in a plain language, a dramatic love story and the first encounter with his wife and their honeymoon, historical facts, and cultural background of Cambodia (why did Cambodians who had this great smile kill?). On page 41 in the book, a common phrase mentioned by the Khmer Rouge soldiers goes: “Don’t hide your secrets, or your eyes will be removed.” The Khmer Rouge leaders brainwashed these young soldiers to hate their enemies who were ordinary people or treat other people like less than animals, and it’s very easy to kill or harm when hatred happens.
Bou Meng is a man who has lived through four regimes in Cambodia: French colonial time (1863-1953), Sangkum Reastre Niyum (1953-1970s), Lon Nol (1970s-1975) and today’s regime (1979-present). He, like other countryside boy, was mobilized and later purged for his alleged relation with secret police like CIA or KGB.
I can’t wait to read this book! ;-).
Photos by Yourn Sarath

8 thoughts on “Bou Meng: Free from the Past”

    1. This is not a summary…this is just to inform readers about who Bou Meng was and what his book was about.. I haven’t read the book myself; how can I write a summary for you? LOL…This blog post is intended to give you an impression to buy the book and read it for yourself. 😛

  1. Hi K.K
    I really enjoyed reading your blog for the first time, especially the post about Bou Meng and the new book about his life. I will be reading it for sure.
    I also wanted to let you know that I am the composer of the new musical “Winds of Angkor” which is inspired by letters exchanged by prisoners of the Khmer Rouge. Highlights from the show will be performed for the first time in Cambodia – very exciting! – at the Cambodia Youth Arts Festival, in Phnom Penh August 1 – 5.
    I invite you to visit the show’s website:
    I have also posted videos from the show at
    I would be very grateful if you could post an announcement about ‘Winds of Angkor’ on your blog and invite people to find ‘Winds of Angkor’ on Facebook. I will be posting more information about the Festival performance soon, and hope many people will come. I have been developing the show for 10 years with a wonderful cast and crew, and we are thrilled to be coming to Cambodia!
    Thank you!

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