In memory of Vann Nath 1946-2011
A Cambodian Prison Portrait is a short, compelling book which is found in most second hand bookshops on the South East Asian backpacker trail.
Vann recalls the day his family were taken from him, his arrest and his time spent in Tuol Sleng prison. He was one of seven survivors out of around 20 000 imprisoned at the S21 secret jail, spared his life for his artistic abilities. His duties as a prisoner at Tuol Sleng involved creating portraits of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot.
His succinct memoir tells of his uncle’s removal from the S21, alluding to his death, and depicts clear memories of truckloads of people being removed from the prison. Unbeknownst to him they were taken to the killing fields to be murdered.
Although Vann did not witness any tortures himself, his words create an immediate portrayal of the conditions at the prison, and the reader finds themselves sitting next to Vann, looking out at the prisoners being removed from the prison.
If his words weren’t powerful enough, his artistic representations of the conditions of the prison were painted after the fall of the Khmer Rouge; bringing the prison back to life.
After reading this book one can not help but be compelled to visit the S21 prison for themselves.