For the Sake of All Living Things: A Novel [NOOK Book]


John M. Del Vecchio’s searing bestseller The 13th Valley was praised as one of the most powerful works of literature to emerge from the Vietnam experience. Now back in print comes an even more stunning achievement: For the Sake of All Living Things. In this unflinching and unforgettable epic saga, Del Vecchio re-creates the violence and horror of Vietnam’s parallel tragedy—the Cambodian holocaust—as seen through the eyes of a Cambodian family and the American adviser whose fate becomes irrevocable linked ...
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For the Sake of All Living Things: A Novel

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John M. Del Vecchio’s searing bestseller The 13th Valley was praised as one of the most powerful works of literature to emerge from the Vietnam experience. Now back in print comes an even more stunning achievement: For the Sake of All Living Things. In this unflinching and unforgettable epic saga, Del Vecchio re-creates the violence and horror of Vietnam’s parallel tragedy—the Cambodian holocaust—as seen through the eyes of a Cambodian family and the American adviser whose fate becomes irrevocable linked with theirs. A sweeping tale of savagery and survival that pits parents and children against both the North Vietnamese invaders and the unprecedented ferocity of the Khmer Rouge, For the Sake of All Living Things is an unrelenting, ultimately inspiring chronicle of conflict and redemption in the killing fields.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Harrowing. . . . [Del Vecchio] has added another memorable book to the literature of the Southeast Asian conflict.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Nothing can prepare the reader for the experience of this book.” —The Dallas Morning News
“Exhaustive, emotionally powerful. . . . Del Vecchio brilliantly portrays the labyrinthine tragedies that led to the 1970s cataclysm in Cambodia.” —Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781480401891
  • Publisher: Warriors, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/26/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 842
  • Sales rank: 879,170
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

John M. Del Vecchio is the author of four books, including two bestsellers with approximately 1.4 million copies sold, as well as hundreds of articles. He graduated from Lafayette College in 1969, was drafted and sent to Vietnam in 1970, where he served as a combat correspondent in the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). In 1971, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for heroism in ground combat.
John M. Del Vecchio is the bestselling author of The 13th Valley and other novels on the war in Southeast Asia and the veteran homecoming experience. He was a combat correspondent for the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam and received a Bronze Star for heroism in ground combat. 
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Read an Excerpt

For the Sake of All Living Things

A Novel

By John M. Del Vecchio


Copyright © 1990 John M. Del Vecchio
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-0189-1


Worry furrows creased Cahuom Chhuon's forehead. He was trapped, held in an amorphous iridescent blue, almost black, dream. Images parted, blurry, as if he were looking through deep water, as if he were at the bottom of a great basin. To one side a massive fuzzy maw stretched mechanically open, bit down, then slowly opened, rhythmically, like the breathing of a fish in a stream, the mouth pulsing, open closed open closed, not breathing but biting, ingesting all which entered the current. To the other side the basin floor rose. Colors, people emerged. They were all there by the side of the river. His entire family, Sok, Vathana, Yani and the boys, all, but much younger, even his father, strong, large, powerful. There too were distant relatives, neighbors, friends from the far reaches of Cambodia, even the Mountaineer, Y Ksar from Plei Srepok, all gathered as if for a great celebration. But the occasion was not happy.

His worry rose. He felt besieged. People were in small groups, some in the shade beneath the trees, some in the sun at the edge of the road leading back to Phum Sath Din, some at the river's edge. Only his older brother spoke to him, listened to him, but it was as if he, Cahuom Chhuon, were not really there but only a body like his and that body spoke a foreign tongue. He tried to call his brother, to explain, to warn.... He did not know of what. Something. Something very important. Something to be done. The people looked to him, to that body? He felt responsible but he was not there? Why? Why could he not reach them? Why was his brother resisting? He must reach them.

They milled around behind his brother, milled, not as a mob but more as if guests at a wedding, yet without happiness, without laughter, without the traditional feast. Behind them the river was brown. The sky turned mist green, green from the lush forest growth through which he watched. Dusk was upon them. Chhuon shuddered, stiffened. The waters of the Srepok, swollen by monsoon rains, roared over rapids. To his nose came the rancid aroma of river mud. Then a terrible, foul stench which made him retch. Then, on the river, in the river, all fallen into the quick current, frightened, not fighting the flow, riding the rushing water—Sok, Vathana, whole families fallen into the stream, sucked down current. From one bank tigers slashed mighty claws, from the other crocodiles slithered. Then, in the water, elephants, massive, swimming down upon them, coursing more quickly than water flow, overtaking him, them all, crushing them beneath their immensity, smashing them into rocks, into banks in their frenzy, he popping up like a cork, riding the empty water. Alone.

Phum Sath Din, Stung Treng Province, Cambodia, 5 August 1968—The sound of a heavy truck struggling through mud woke Cahuom Chhuon from his restless dreaming. He lay on his back on the sleeping mat. It was very dark in the house. Chhuon's children lay side to side on a second mat. Chhuon listened. The truck was close, just across the river. He raised his arms, crossed his forearms over his face. Every day, he thought. The truck passed. Chhuon brought his arms to his sides, folded his hands over his navel. He thought deeply, meditated, attempting to resee the dream, attempting to sink back into the restless disturbing journey. Later, he thought, if I can recall it, I will tell the khrou, or perhaps the monk. He dozed.

"ssst," Samnang hissed to Samay.

"ssshh," the older boy hushed his brother.

"ssst," Samnang whispered again. Chhuon coughed in his sleep.

"ssshh," Mayana whispered to both, "you'll wake papa."

"he talks in his sleep," Samay said.

"i know," Samnang hissed, "i was awake, i never sleep."

"ssh!" Vathana's hiss was quick, terse, "it's not time to get up."

Very quietly, so the girls couldn't hear, Samnang whispered to his brother, "samay."


"does the devil really have a great ledger for recording all the evil deeds we do?"

"you think of things like that at this hour, eh? go back to sleep, look how you disturb papa."

"samay," Samnang whispered again, "why can't a monk and a girl come in contact?"

"sleep," Samay ordered, "if you didn't put bad thoughts into your head, you would sleep like peou." Again all was silent.

At six o'clock Chhuon rose quietly, moved to the door of the bamboo, wood and thatch home. His mother snored quietly in her small area of the central room. Snuggled next to her was Sakhon, Chhuon's three-year-old son. Ever since the death of his father three months earlier Chhuon's mother had withdrawn into deep lamentation, reaching out only to this youngest grandchild. Chhuon's wife, Neang Thi Sok, lay asleep on her mat against the near wall. I should wake her to start the fire, he thought, but he did not disturb her. The other children slept along the far wall. Chhuon looked at them: Vathana, lovely, tiny, not five feet tall, eighteen, arranged to be married to the second son of his brother's associate, a wealthy shipper with a section of pier on the Mekong at Neak Luong; Samay, his eldest son, fifteen, ready to leave the family for two years Sangha study with the monks; Samnang, almost twelve, a smart, agile though distant boy who Chhuon determined should follow him in business; and Mayana, Yani, eight, the image of her mother. Chhuon looked again at his mother and Sakhon, whom they called Peou, a nickname which simply designates last child. He lifted a tiny statuette of Buddha which had been carved from one of his father's teeth. It hung from a cotton cord about his neck. He kissed the Buddha seven times, once for each of his children, and he thanked the Blessed One for having spared five of the seven.

In the 1950s and early 1960s almost half of all Cambodian children, ages one to five died; more in rural provinces. Chhuon whispered another prayer, a special prayer to Buddha for having seen Samnang through his terrible illness. In the faint light Chhuon could just see the slim boy's form behind the mosquito netting and beneath his blanket. They had nicknamed him Kdeb (pronounced "Kay"), Spanky, because as a toddler he had chugged about so happily, eyes shining, before he could speak always cooing, later chattering without shyness to everyone. At six years old Kdeb fell ill to jungle fever, remained ill for half a year, changed from happy, chunky boy to frail, sullen child. His mother, father, eldest sister or a grandparent coddled him continually until Samnang, in an un-Khmer flourish of independence, revolted, as if, to his six-year-old mind, the illness was a betrayal, as if the pain were tied to the very people who cared for him. He became withdrawn, distrustful. By eight he had seemingly recovered, yet he harbored a coldness which pooled at the back of his eyes. Chhuon felt it, deep, hidden, a painful secret a father could never acknowledge. By nine Samnang again seemed happy, yet he was prone to sporadic bursts of uncontrolled behavior. In school other children shied away from him. Only in the mind of Chhuon was this boy still Kdeb.

Chhuon said another prayer for his family. He lit a cigarette, closed his eyes, took a deep drag, held the smoke, exhaled. Perhaps, he thought, after we return I'll see the monk and seek his analysis of the dream. Perhaps the khrou, the fortune-teller. He leaned his shoulder against the doorjamb, closed his eyes and replayed the dream in his mind to ensure he would be able to recall it. Such a strange dream, he thought. He contemplated the water, the colors. He began to say another prayer but his mind slid to the dream. A chill skittered up his spine as he recalled the entrapment by crocodiles, tigers and elephants while in the rushing current.

He felt old, older than his forty-three years. It was a custom in his family, as in many Khmer families, to discuss dreams and to analyze them in relationship to family problems. On this cool morning Chhuon felt stiff, sore, worn down by the struggle which was his life. He was aware that had he had this same dream ten years earlier, or were he more traditional, he would postpone the trip. The awareness increased his disturbance. Again he exhaled slowly. The smoke from his breath mixed with the morning mist and hung in a cloud before him. Is it an omen? he thought. A message from Papa's spirit?

Chhuon finished his cigarette. He wrapped a yellow checked krama about his neck, the long ends falling to his waist, then descended the few stairs to the muddy ground. He was a short man, short for Cambodian, five three, yet he was strong with muscular chest and legs. He bent, removed his sandals, then stood, straightened his back, rolled his shoulders attempting to loosen the stiffness. It had rained every night for three months and the village streets were saturated. He squatted to loosen his stiff knees, stood and looked into the dark morning sky, into the graying mist, patchy amid the village buildings and orchards, thick in the surrounding forest. He could hear the river rushing. The sound made him tense. Everything was telling him to cancel the trip. I'm becoming like a Frenchman, he thought. Maybe worse. Maybe like a Yuon or even an American. First the khrou, he thought. Then the monk. Ah, but first the trip. I'll bring Kdeb and Yani with me. Their uncle and Y Ksar will like seeing them, and a day away, it will settle him. Ah, deliveries must be made, eh? Despite dreams.

Chhuon stepped to a small house on a post before his home. He reached inside, removed an incense stick, lit it, placed it back into the house. He said a short prayer to the angel spirits asking them for a peaceful journey and a peaceful life.

"This is the Cambodia of 1968," Chhuon seemed to hear his older brother, Cheam, say. "We're a growing nation. No longer can we indulge ourselves with the old ways."

It's true, Chhuon thought. People are slowed by old beliefs. Ah, but on this morning, it would be good, eh? to fall back on tradition. Ah, to tell the fortune-teller, the healer, the monk! Sok ... what will she say?

For much of his life Chhuon had followed traditional patterns. All the people, even the simplest rice farmer, consulted the khrou, the monk, or the lay priest, the aacha, if they had a disturbing dream. Cheam's imagined voice whispered again, "Younger Brother, I've a dream of good rice and good fortune; you, a dream of disaster. Yet it's the same day and the same business. One dream must not be true. Besides, we've promised deliveries. If we are to run our own country we must learn from the Chinese merchants. Commerce waits for no man."

Chhuon took a deep breath. "Older Brother," he muttered into the mist, "are we to be so removed from custom you do not even shave your head when our father dies?"

Like his parents, grandparents, siblings and children, Cahuom Chhuon had been born, raised and educated in Phum Sath Din. His father had been a rice farmer as had his uncles and most of his cousins. The village had changed little in Chhuon's four decades—even though the nation had changed dramatically. The population of Phum Sath Din had decreased from just over 500 to about 420. Both of Chhuon's sisters, with their husbands, moved away, Voen to Phnom Penh and Moeun to Battambang. All children who came of age and who were able to pay the bonjour, the kickback, for advanced studies moved first to the provincial capital, Stung Treng City, then, if qualified, to Phnom Penh.

In 1957, with proper "donations" from their father to local and provincial authorities, Cheam had left Phum Sath Din and founded a delivery service seventeen kilometers east in the provincial capital. Chhuon had joined his brother in 1960 and had taken the task of supplying and educating local farmers, and later mountain peoples, in new varieties of rice and other crops which were being developed in China and in the West. In the years since he'd begun his small personal campaign, rice production in his area had increased from less than one to just over 1.25 metric tons per hectare. Amongst the small farmers Chhuon was held in great esteem.

Phum Sath Din remained essentially a private community separate from the state. People left but few came. The four families which had founded it three hundred years earlier were still the four families who owned the land and worked the fields. Chhuon knew every resident, each knew him. They knew one another's history, finances, strengths, aspirations and fears. Of his siblings, only Chhuon remained in Phum Sath Din, remained with his parents because he alone saw the village as the best of Cambodia. To him it was a neat, well-administered small town without corruption, without the bastardization of generations of French colonial rule. To Chhuon the villages were the heart of a new, emerging Cambodia, were a peaceful link between the traditional kingdom and a forward-looking, independent, Buddhist-socialist state. Yet with Cheam in Stung Treng the Cahuom family entered Cambodia's tiny middle class and with that entry, traditions wobbled, fell and shattered.

Chhuon opened the hood of the small Japanese-built pickup truck. He tapped the dipstick seven times, then withdrew it to check the oil. He replaced the stick, gently closed the hood, wiped the headlights. He smiled at the truck, his brother's truck, one of only two trucks in Phum Sath Din. He looked down the graveled muddy main road of the village which ran parallel to the river. At the middle of the village he could see the silhouette of the pagoda's roof jabbing up through the mist. The decagonal temple or vihear and the adjoining hall or sala were the community's house of worship, school and focal point for all village celebrations and rites. They were Chhuon's anchor to the continuity of life from past generations through present. He whispered another prayer, then told himself, When we return I will bring the monks sugar and tea from Stung Treng, maybe cloth from Lomphat, and an ebony block from Plei Srepok.

Again a chill skittered on his spine and caused him to stiffen. His eyes darted toward the river. In the midseventeenth century the first pagoda in the village had been erected by Chhuon's ancestors just outside the walls of the settlement at the confluence of the San and Srepok rivers. A hundred years later the settlement had been lost to Viet Namese control. Ancestral tablets in the pagoda recorded the history of the Cahuom family through most of these times. Chhuon turned back to the village. Before his ancestors arrived, as early as the turn of the millennium, Khmer warriors had defeated Chams in bloody battles along the rivers and the Khmer Empire extended over most of Indochina. Permanent settlements were few in the heavily forested regions. The site of Phum Sath Din was occupied by Mountaineer tribesmen perhaps once every twenty years, a camp in their rotational nomadic hunting. Then came the Cahuoms, then the Viet Namese, the Khmer reconquest, and the loss of political decree to French colonialism though no Frenchman ever administered in the tiny settlement. Japanese occupation and new French rule had had little effect inside the community. Chhuon walked to the back of the truck. The bed of the cargo box had been covered with wood planking for animals which Chhuon frequently carried. He checked the hemp ropes he used to tie his loads, then he pulled his krama more tightly about his neck to ward off the chill. He squatted, checked the tires, scooped the mud from beside one to ensure that the sidewall had not been cut when he'd driven into a deep pothole. He squeezed the mud into a ball, worked the ball in his hand.

A child's scream pierced the mist. Chhuon whispered a prayer. He was well known for his patience, well respected for his adherence to the Eightfold Path of moral behavior: right belief, aspiration, speech, doing, livelihood, effort, thought and meditation. Again the scream. Peou, Chhuon thought. He stood. For a man to be known as patient with his children was a great accolade. Chhuon breathed deeply.

In the house Samnang addressed his father. "Peou wants to come with us," he said.

"Then we'll make room for him," Chhuon answered.

"There's no room," Sok, Chhuon's wife, said.

"Papa, if you wish me to stay home," Samnang said, "Peou can have my seat." A simper flicked to his face, then vanished.

Chhuon looked approvingly at Samnang. The boy's behavior was proper. His own cheeks wrinkled with a thin smile, so slight it did not betray his thought: This son, whom others think odd, behaves perfectly.

Peou screamed again. "I won't go! I won't go! I want to stay with Grandma."

Chhuon nodded. "You stay," he said gently. The boy ran to where his grandmother was sitting, plopped onto her and hugged her lap.

Vathana handed her father a bowl of hot rice and pepper soup. "Papa ...," she said. All about them was activity. "... last night, when you told of Samdech Euv's system of voluntary contributions ..."


Excerpted from For the Sake of All Living Things by John M. Del Vecchio. Copyright © 1990 John M. Del Vecchio. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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