From the Land of Shadows

War, Revolution, and the Making of the Cambodian Diaspora

272 pages

1 map

October, 2015

ISBN: 9781479858231



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Khatharya Um is a political scientist, an Associate Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies, and Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

All books by Khatharya Um

In a century of mass atrocities, the Khmer Rouge regime marked Cambodia with one of the most extreme genocidal instances in human history. What emerged in the aftermath of the regime's collapse in 1979 was a nation fractured by death and dispersal. It is estimated that nearly one-fourth of the country's population perished from hard labor, disease, starvation, and executions. Another half million Cambodians fled their ancestral homeland, with over one hundred thousand finding refuge in America.
From the Land of Shadows surveys the Cambodian diaspora and the struggle to understand and make meaning of this historical trauma. Drawing on more than 250 interviews with survivors across the United States as well as in France and Cambodia, Khatharya Um places these accounts in conversation with studies of comparative revolutions, totalitarianism, transnationalism, and memory works to illuminate the pathology of power as well as the impact of auto-genocide on individual and collective healing. Exploring the interstices of home and exile, forgetting and remembering, From the Land of Shadows follows the ways in which Cambodian individuals and communities seek to rebuild connections frayed by time, distance, and politics in the face of this injurious history.


  • “Offering an impressive archive of the legacy of the Khmer Rouge, From the Land of Shadows provides vivid first-hand accounts of starvation, hard labor, disappearances and executions, post-migration trauma, and intergenerational remembering and forgetting. With beautiful storytelling and compelling prose, Khatharya Um deftly situates rich narratives of the survivors’ struggles to make meaning out of lives that have been forever ruptured within the larger historical context of Cambodia’s colonial and post-colonial history. A deeply affecting and much-awaited book.”

    —Yen Le Espiritu, author of Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refuge(es)

  • “With rich ethnographic details, From the Land of Shadows places survivor narratives in conversation with literature on revolution, diaspora, transnationalism, and memory. Khatharya Um makes visible the lived experiences of Cambodians as they try to make sense of their new identities in multiple contexts. A remarkable book.”

    —Chia Youyee Vang, author of Hmong America: Reconstructing Community in Diaspora

  •  “The book, which includes an incisive discussion of the paradoxes but necessity of return, will interest those considering the nature of diasporas.”


  •  “Um writes with scholarly rigor.”

    Journal of American History