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.

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.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

More on this topic

Suggestions below based on Fiction

God’s business

A strange and compulsively readable tale of City slickers seduced by a promise of spiritual awakening

Finals countdown

A bittersweet hymn to the high jinks of student days, Ben Masters’ ‘Noughties’ is a caustic, street-smart novel for our times

Faith and freedom

Set in the 1980s, Ayad Akhtar’s coming-of-age debut novel ‘American Dervish’ is a bleak tale about the Muslim immigrant experience in the US

Roman rehab

An introverted Italian teenager learns the value of empathy when his estranged sister takes refuge in his hiding place in Niccolò Ammaniti’s ‘Me and You’

Reinvention beckons

A tale for anyone who has walked along an upmarket neighbourhood and coveted the richness of other people’s lives