From the Publisher
Kirkus, February 15, 2011
“An excellent…account of a country whose historic poverty, exacerbated by the Vietnam War, remains remarkably unchanged.”
“A riveting piece of literary reportage.”
“A heartbreaking but vital status report on a people who deserve far better.”
Foreign Affairs, May/June 2011
“Brinkley cuts a clear narrative path through the bewildering, cynical politics and violent social life of one of the worlds most brutalized and hard-up countries.”
San Francisco Chronicle, April 16, 2011
“As a young reporter, Brinkley won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for his coverage of the Cambodian refugee crisis. Returning to the region 30 years later, Brinkley - now a professor of journalism at Stanford - chose his subject well…[he] admirably…demonstrates that Hun Sen's administration has been a disaster for many Cambodians.”
The Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2011
“Illuminating…Mr. Brinkley won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for covering Cambodian refugees, and he weaves the details of the nation's underbelly into a compelling argument, interviewing powerful figures and foreign officials involved in politics, courts, hospitals, land development, forests and schools.”
The American Interest, July/August, 2011
“Compelling… a revealing tale of delusion and corruption told with considerable panache.”
Brinkley finds little has changed in the 32 years since . As the title suggests, his book is an unabashed plea to refocus international aid and diplomacy on a suffering people. It is also an attempt to hold some of those responsible for that suffering accountable — but not all.
The New York Times Book Review
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.)
An excellent though dispiriting account of a country whose historic poverty, exacerbated by the Vietnam War, remains remarkably unchanged.
Former New York Times Pulitzer-winning journalist Brinkley (Journalism/Stanford Univ.; Defining Vision: The Battle for the Future of Television, 1997, etc.) explains that Cambodia was a backwater, powerless to prevent North Vietnamese forces from establishing bases inside its borders after 1965. America's devastating bombing nurtured the Khmer Rouge insurgency, which took power and launched the well-known genocidal horrors after the United States withdrew in 1975. Vietnam's 1979 invasion ended the killing, but since Vietnam was a Soviet ally, America denounced the new government. Matters changed after 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed and Vietnamese troops withdrew, leaving an impoverished nation led by Vietnam's Cambodian protégé, Hun Sen. America encouraged the UN in an audacious, multibillion-dollar nation-building campaign. The author cynically notes that nothing impresses Western nations than a free election. Cambodia dutifully held one in 1993, and Hun Sen won. Proclaiming success, the UN withdrew, but aid continues to pour in despite a stunning lack of progress; nearly half of Cambodia's children are malnourished. Few deny that corruption is responsible, and Brinkley's book is less history than an angry journalistic description of Cambodia's kleptocratic leadership, its universally bribable officials and the donors who facilitate them. Readers will squirm as Brinkley describes a yearly pledge meeting where international donors denounce endemic corruption, and Hun Sen (still in charge) promises reform, whereupon donors pledge another year's aid.
Like a growing number of critics, Brinkley argues that raising a nation from poverty requires an effective government, democratically elected or not. Otherwise, aid is money down the toilet.