A Cloak of Good Fortune
San Francisco resident Sieu Sean Do’s new memoir describes his life as a youngster in Cambodia. (Courtesy photo)
Sieu Sean Do says his new book “A Cloak of Good Fortune” is different from other memoirs by people who survived atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge.
“I believe my story is very unique. Many Cambodian writers only talk about the killing fields. Other Cambodian books don’t talk about traditional culture,” says Do, 56. “I’m publishing to help a generation to understand, to share a beautiful traditional culture that was uprooted by war and disappeared.”
The book’s title comes from its prologue, one of many stories he tells about his family and their strong beliefs in the supernatural and tenets of Buddhism.
When he was born (in 1963) he came out of his mother’s body still enclosed in the amniotic sac, and the midwife exclaimed, “You have a clean child. He has been protected by a cloak of good fortune. That’s a good omen!”
“My grandma boasted about my story; she was so proud. She said, ‘You are a special child, you were announced in front of the midwife, you were born without sin,’” says Do, who starts the book with charming descriptions of a peaceful life in the rural town of Kampong Speu, surrounded by loving parents and grandparents who regaled him with folk tales and instilled in him a strong moral compass.
He started carrying notebooks in which he’d jot down memories as they randomly came to him: “I walk through Golden Gate Park, the smell of fresh grass brings me back to the forest or jungle,” says Do, adding that his notes were in Cambodian: “If I go straight to English, I will lose the flavor, the kind of crazy, interesting Asian style.”
“A Cloak of Good Fortune” doesn’t have lots of dates and facts about politics and the war in which some 2 million people perished. And while its fascinating episodes in 48 short chapters include images of brutality, hard labor, torture and death, the book also has lessons about doing the right thing despite dire circumstances.
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