Swain, an award-winning Sunday Times of London reporter, looks back at the most memorable moments of his life: his assignments in Phnom Penh and Saigon during the last five years of the American war in Indochina. He does so with a no-frills memoir that also contains, among other things, his trips back to Cambodia and Vietnam in the 1980s, and his three-month kidnapping by revolutionaries in Ethiopia in the late 1970s. The heart of the book, though, is Swain's white-hot recreation of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge. Acting on "an irresistible impulse," Swain scrambled aboard the last flight into Phnom Penh from Bangkok on April 12, 1975. Along with several other journalists, he witnessed the first weeks of the infamous Killing Fields, the holocaust waged by the Khmer Rouge against the Cambodian people. Swain's account of the insane forced evacuation of the entire population of refugee-swelled Phnom Penh is not for the faint of heart. He sets out in often gruesome detail what he calls "the greatest caravan of human misery" he saw "in five years of war." Swain includes an account of his personal brush with death, after he and the American journalist Sidney Schanberg and the latter's Cambodian assistant, Dith Pran, were detained by guerillas and threatened with execution. Swain's version of that incident, and of Dith Pran's subsequent surrender to the Khmer Rouge, jibes with what Schanberg wrote in "The Death and Life of Dith Pran" (on which the movie The Killing Fields was based). Swain, Schanberg, and Pran lived through their Cambodian nightmare. But Swain also tells the stories of many others who perished along with hundreds of thousands of their fellow Cambodians.
An accomplished memoir that will be remembered for its evocation of the horrors of the Cambodian Killing Fields.