Granta, £14.99, order for £13.49 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Dogs at the Perimeter, By Madeleine Thien
Monday 05 March 2012
Can anyone ever fully recover from the trauma of war, especially if it rips apart your childhood? Although Canadian novelist Madeleine Thien is far too subtle a writer use this obvious framework, Dogs at the Perimeter explores the aftermath of war with a quiet power.
Set in Montreal and Cambodia, her novel uses two intersecting stories of people whose lives have been corroded by experiences that, decades after the Khmer Rouge, continue to inflict a brutal pain.
At the age of 10, Janie's childhood abruptly ends when the communists march into Phnom Penh, seizing her father and forcing her, along with her younger brother Sopham and mother, into a field where they are expected to begin life anew. Her father disappears, her mother goes quietly mad from starvation and grief, while her brother, aged eight, is hauled off to train as an interrogator. The deaths of her parents and brother haunt Janie, who escapes to Canada to become a successful neurologist, settled with a husband and young son.
But when her friend and colleague Hiroji Matsui returns to Cambodia to search for his missing brother, a doctor who worked with a relief agency there, Janie's own trauma returns. While Janie and Hiroji spend their lives helping patients regain their memories, they are tormented by what they cannot forget. She was forced to remember and to shape a narrative of her life, as the Khmer Rouge required even children to write their biographies.
As the past begins to seep into her present, Janie knows she must confront her grief and guilt at being her family's lone survivor. Thien writes with an elegant economy whose spare sentences heighten the horror. Among Janie's nightmares is the recurring memory of her brother's death at sea when they had fled Cambodia and were almost safe.
But Thien does find the words to describe the depths of her characters' pain and their reconciliation to living with their ghosts. "Inside us, from the beginning, we are entrusted with many lives," she writes. "From the first morning to the last we carry them until the end." This is a beautiful, deeply moving novel that addresses universal questions.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 3 Paul Scholes: Manchester United need five experienced players who can turn round a desperate situation
- 4 Nicki Minaj 'Anaconda': Singer finally releases predictable video
- 5 James Foley 'beheading': Met police warn public watching murder video could be criminal offence
Laughs go global as Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran bring international comedians to the Edinburgh Fringe
The Top Ten: Horrible buildings
JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing 'Singing Sorceress' Celestina Warbuck
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Celebrity Big Brother 2014 line-up: Meet the contestants from Lauren Goodger to Kellie Maloney and Audley Harrison
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Scottish Independence Referendum: Salmond described as 'arrogant, ambitious and dishonest' by Scottish women