February 10, 2012 9:55 pm

Horrors unseen

A gripping child’s-eye view of the Cambodian genocide weighs the psychological damage inflicted by a brutal regime
 

Dogs at the Perimeter, by Madeleine Thien, Granta RRP£14.99, 264 pages

Montreal-based neuroscientist Hiroji knows that pain and suffering are not physiologically the same. Burn away the correct part of the brain and, though the patient may still experience pain, they won’t feel it’s happening to them. If only his attempts to escape his own emotional distress were as simple. For 30 years, he has tried in vain to discover what happened to his brother, a Red Cross doctor who disappeared under the Khmer Rouge. Then, one day Hiroji vanishes too.

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For his friend Janie, already at crisis point in her marriage, the loss is crushing; a survivor of the Killing Fields, she is led to face her long-repressed past.

Madeleine Thien’s second novel offers a gripping child’s-eye view of the Cambodian genocide. Sure-footed when it comes to which horrors to show and which to leave to the imagination, it is also utterly convincing in how it weighs the psychological damage inflicted by a regime that demands denial of family, friends and self as a condition of survival.

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