I have been looking forward to reading Never Fall Down (Balzar and Bray 2012) ever since Patricia McCormick told us about her newest book in a Skype visit with one of my classes last spring. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story that hit me with more power than did reading about the life of Arn Chorn-Pond. Even though I was desperate to learn what happened next, I had to read this book slowly. It took time for me to absorb the horror of the events described in such beautiful language.
When he is eleven years old, Arn’s village is invaded by soldiers of the Khmer Rouge. Life will never be the same. He is separated from his family and taken to work in a camp with other children, planting, tending, and harvesting rice. There is not enough to eat. Anyone who displeases the Khmer Rouge is brutally tortured and killed. Hoping the decision will save his life, Arn volunteers to play a musical instrument. He must master it and the revolutionary songs quickly or die. Then he must play to mask the sounds of death in the Killing Fields. Ultimately, he is handed a gun and forced to become a child soldier.
Arn Chorn-Pond is one of the most inspiring individuals I have ever met in life or in the pages of a book. He not only survived the horrors of the Killing Fields, but he did so without deadening his heart. Even though his experiences in the midst of the Killing Fields, he risked his life to save the other musicians by stealing food for them and inspiring them to keep playing. Once he came to the United States, he learned to share his story and speak out for the people he left behind in Cambodia. As an adult, he founded Children of War (an organization that helps children caught in war) and Cambodian Living Arts (an organization dedicated to preserving the traditional music of Cambodia). He continues his work to improve the lives of people in Cambodia.
Here is an interview with Patricia McCormick and Arn Chorn-Pond: