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I Little Slave: A Prison Memoir from Communist Laos
Raised in the hierarchical society of traditional Laos, Bounsang Khamkeo earned his doctorate in political science in France and returned home in 1973 to a country in political chaos in the wake of the Vietnam War. He worked for the government until 1981 before being imprisoned by the communist Pathet Lao government after running afoul of a politically ambitious boss. I Little Slave is the account of his seven-year struggle in prison to stay alive and keep sane in spite of harsh physical privation and endless psychological abuse. Khamkeo's story is a moving and important one at a time when political oppression and crimes against human rights are on the rise throughout the world.
Bounsang Khamkeo grew up in Laos but left at the age of seventeen to study in France. Thirteen years later, in 1973, he returned to his homeland, having recently completed a doctorate in political science at the University of Toulouse. Eager to help his country recover from the devastation of the Vietnam War years, he joined the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he continued to be employed after the Pathet Lao seized power in December 1975. In 1977 he was assigned to work with the Interim Mekong Committee, an intergovernmental organization devoted to regional development, and in the fall of 1978 was appointed the executive secretary of the Lao National Mekong Committee. He was arrested on the evening of June 1, 1981, at the home of the president of the Lao Mekong, with whom he had argued in the course of a business meeting. He was subsequently accused of entirely fictitious crimes and spent the next seven years, three months, and four days as a political prisoner.
In September 1988 the Laotian government chose to release Khamkeo from prison, and he was able to return to his family in Vientiane. His safety was by no means guaranteed, however, and in March 1989 he, his wife, and their two daughters fled Laos. After spending two months in Thailand, they emigrated to the United States, where Khamkeo was reunited with his two sons, who had left Laos prior to his release. Today, he works as a behavioral health counselor at Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland. He lives with his wife, Vieng, in Vancouver, Washington.
It was after leaving Laos that Bounsang Khamkeo began to work on the present volume. "Deep in my soul," he writes, "I had come to understand that if someone witnesses a great wrong and fails to speak out, he loses his place as a righteous man. And so I found my reason to survive and the purpose for my existence: to bear witness."
This memoir of the Laotian death camps is the first full account of the Pathet Lao's secret jungle prisons. As gripping as A Cambodian Odyssey, it is a jolting reminder of the atrocities that states rush to commit once fanaticism—political or religious—rips off the precious shackles of human decency. What a miracle that Dr. Khamkeo survived to write the story. And what a gift to us is this haunting narrative of undaunted will.
—Keith Quincy, author of Harvesting Pa Chay's Wheat
This is a book about war, torture, and refugees. More importantly, it is a book about survival. To me, the fact that Bounsang survived is part of his extraordinary story. But the fact that he survived intact, as a caring, sensitive human being, is even more surprising. His book offers hope for us who work with traumatized refugees—to see some who have survived with their convern, generosity and love intact.
—J. David Kinzie, M.D., professor of psychiatry, Oregon Health and Science University
Bounsang Khamkeo has given us all a tremendous gift: an extraordinary story of the power of the human spirit to overcome almost unimaginable odds. I Little Slave is not just a riveting story that will keep you glued to the page. It is also an important reflection on the seemingly limitless ability of humans to inflict pain on one another. In an age when the temptation to sweep aside civil liberties and give into fanaticism is all around us, I Little Slave is a book worth reading.
—Brett Dakin, author of Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos
To purchase I Little Slave by Bounsang Khamkeo, please contact our distributor, University Press of New England toll free at 1-800-421-1561 or by fax at 1-603-448-9729. The book is also available online at UPNE, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine retailers.
To request a copy for review, please contact the Carnegie Mellon University Press Editorial Offices at (412) 268-2861 or by email at CarnegieMellonUniversityPress@gmail.com.