I'll admit, I sometimes have a hard time with this "type" of book. You know, the one about the kid in the war-torn zone filled with atrocities and horror. I'm always interested, especially when they are based on real experiences, but I have to steel myself to read them because I become so immersed in the story that it lingers over me and haunts me for days afterwards. And I guess that's the point. The story told in Never Fall Down is something that, like the endless Holocaust stories, needs to be told over and over again so that it is never forgotten. So if you are looking for a "fluff" read, don't stop here. But if you are looking for a story that will imprint itself on your brain and cause you to think about a part of history you probably haven't considered before, and cause you to think about what is right and what is wrong and how can we protect the innocent in this crazy world, then by all means, go ahead.
This story is based on the true life experiences of Arn Chorn-Pond, who grew up in Cambodia during the genocide enacted by the Khmer Rouge. He was just 11 when the Khmer Rouge came to power in his homeland, circa 1975. He lives with his aunt, sisters and brother, scrounging for money by holding betting games in the town square, and making blowguns that his little brother uses to shoot his older sisters in the butt. Until the soldiers come. Then he is herded out into the countryside with hundreds of other undesirable townspeople. At first he manages to stay with his family, but soon the soldiers are splitting them up into separate work details. Everyone must work, or they will not eat. All day in the sun, young, old, sick, everyone. People start dropping like flies, killed by the soldier's bullets, by their own hunger, or by exhaustion. Shoved into mass graves.
Throughout the next several years, Arn is swept from place to place by the destruction enveloping his country. As he goes, he loses family members, friends, and enemies. Death is everywhere, and has it's bony hand around the throat of Arn at every turn. And the mantra that he repeats to himself is simply this...never fall down. If you do, you're gone. But Arn is lucky. He has a life-saving ability to see where things are headed, and to jump off the train before they get there. Miraculously, he survives years in the work camps, being forced to join his enemies as a child soldier, sickness, starvation, and emotional death to escape over the river to Thailand and a refugee camp.
But that's not the end of his story. Arn is chosen by an American to come to America and speak about his life in Cambodia to raise awareness of the conflict there. While that sounds like a happy ending, and in a way it is, Arn has a hard time adjusting to life in the States, and processing his experiences. An epilogue and author's note give more information on Arn's life after his dramatic escape from Cambodia.
Extremely hard to read, but extremely timely, Never Fall Down is a razor-sharp reminder that this type of thing happened, and continues to happen. Here is the US, it is never about us, which makes it easy to ignore. You can't ignore the gut-wrenching story of Arn's fight for the ultimate survival -- life.