Thursday, October 11, 7:30pm
Pegasus Books Downtown
Katya Cengel discusses Exiled: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to California and Back.
“Exiled” traces the story of violence through three generations of Cambodian-Americans by profiling a handful of families. It begins with the grandparents, the elderly who will soon be too old to tell their stories of survival. The violence they endured is recognized as the most brutal, a genocide that killed an estimated 20 percent of the Cambodian population. In Cambodia, the criminals have never fully been brought to justice and the victims remain largely silent. The silence is the same in the United States, where survivors have tried to leave their memories of random killing behind. But trauma like that cannot be escaped so easily, and it followed them, seeping back into their families through their children. The guidance, support and care they were often too traumatized to give their children left those same children vulnerable to gang recruitment. The second generation came of age amidst the violence of the past and the present.
The U.S. deported the criminals who did not hold citizenship, sending them back to a homeland their parents had given up everything to escape. They had neither the practical nor emotional skills to cope and their home country offered little help. In Cambodia they succumb to addiction and mental illness in large numbers. Then there is the third generation, the children, the ones still in America growing up without fathers and mothers, subjected to the violence of loss and longing. This is a story about how regimes as brutal as the Khmer Rouge and as benign as the United States have kept alive a legacy of violence and loss. There are no easy answers here, just the words of survivors and their descendants.
Katya Cengel is a freelance writer based in San Luis Obispo, California, and lectures in the Journalism Department of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She was a features and news writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal from 2003 to 2011 and has reported from North and Central America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Her work has appeared in New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Marie Claire, and Newsweek. She is the author of Bluegrass Baseball: A Year in the Minor League Life (Nebraska, 2012).
“A powerful and timely book on the generational impact of a particularly brutal chapter of the twentieth century—the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s. Exiled moves seamlessly from the killing fields of Cambodia to American immigrant communities, adding texture and perspective to the current debate on refugees, political asylum, cultural assimilation, and the deportation of Americanized immigrant criminals. Cengel humanizes this debate, bringing a deeper understanding of these hot-button issues. I strongly recommend this book.”—Melvin Claxton, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist
“Exiled comes at the right moment in our national debate about immigration and deportation. Katya Cengel’s painfully detailed story about the maltreatment of the children of refugees we once welcomed should open our minds and hearts to the tyranny of ill-conceived laws and small-minded bureaucrats.”—Elizabeth Becker, author of When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution
“An excellent and compelling account of Cambodian refugees’ plight in the United States. . . . Once you read Exiled, you can’t help but be empathetic and look at deportation through a new lens.”—Jennifer Lau, author of Beautiful Hero: How We Survived the Khmer Rouge
“A multigenerational saga of violence and resurrection that plays out among several Cambodian-American families. . . . Katya Cengel movingly documents how trauma plays out across multiple generations, showing how the unresolved conflicts of the elders lead to catastrophic addiction and mental illness among the young. Cengel captures the full scale of this tragedy and writes with such compassion that anybody who picks up this book cannot fail to be moved.”—Helen Thorpe, author of The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom