In 1977 the lives of five people collided to catastrophic effect as Cambodians toiled under Pol Pot’s revolutionary Khmer Rouge regime. When the Clouds Fell from the Sky: A Daughter's Search for Her Father in the Killing Fields of Cambodia tells the stories of those lives and, in doing so, explains the causes and consequences of the Khmer Rouge’s rule, which cost the lives of two million people.
The paperback version (in a new, blue tone - see image) of When the Clouds Fell from the Sky: A Daughter's Search for Her Father in the Killing Fields of Cambodia will launch on November 4, 2021.
“A profoundly moving tale that ... brings us into the heart of the darkness that took over Cambodia, bringing it alive in the way no mere statistics can. I've not seen a comparable book about these horrors.”
- Adam Hochschild, award-winning author of King Leopold's Ghost
“An outstanding book of astonishing power, one of the most important and valuable to emerge from the horrors of the Pol Pot regime. One finishes it with an ache in the heart.”
- Jon Swain, writer and foreign correspondent, author of River of Time
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In 1977, a young diplomat called Ouk Ket was recalled to Cambodia 'to get educated to better fulfil [his] responsibilities'. Left behind in Paris were his French wife and their two young children; they never saw him again.
Through this tragedy, the book explores the infamous S-21 prison, the UN-backed trial of its commander, and Cambodia's years of terror - a period of such bitterness that survivors refer to it as “the time when the clouds fell from the sky”.
About the author
Robert Carmichael is a South African-born journalist and writer, who spent a decade reporting from Cambodia.
“What does it mean to say two million people lost their lives during the years of Khmer Rouge rule? The true answer can only be told in microcosm, as Robert Carmichael has done in this intimate and heart-breaking story of the disappearance of one man, and the decades of suffering that followed as his family searched for answers.”
Seth Mydans, former Southeast Asia correspondent for The New York Times
“When the Clouds Fell from the Sky is a standout. Carmichael chronicles the rise and fall of the Khmer Rouge through the interconnected stories of five different people... Several impressive books have been written on the subject. But When the Clouds Fell from The Sky both humanizes the story and brings new insights into the causes of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror.”
Christian Science Monitor
“An outstanding book of astonishing power, one of the most important and valuable to emerge from the horrors of the Pol Pot regime . . . a direct and vivid account of the cruelty and destruction of the country’s darkest era . . . Carmichael relates a family’s intensely painful private story with great sensitivity, weaving it into his overall narrative of the genocide . . . this and his sincerity make his book unforgettable. One finishes it with an ache in the heart.”
Jon Swain, writer and foreign correspondent, author of River of Time
“A love story that rises – so beautifully – above, and in stark contrast to, the absurd and criminal insanity of the Khmer Rouge. Meticulous and carefully documented, When the Clouds Fell from the Sky explores a wide range of Cambodia’s issues while testifying in a deeply movingly way about one of humanity’s worst tragedies.”
Bruno Carette, documentary-maker of Khmers Rouges Amers/Bitter Khmer Rouge
“Several recent books have tackled the most vexing questions – the how, what and why – of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge past. Robert Carmichael’s When the Clouds Fell from The Sky is the latest effort and could well be the best of the crop. Carmichael draws on an impressive range of sources and interviews, leaving few stones unturned as he weaves together events of the past, with the efforts by its victims to reconcile with its legacy.”
“As moving as it is well researched. Robert Carmichael's sharp prose and depth of knowledge of Cambodia's history transforms a daughter's search for her missing father into a nation's journey to find peace and reconciliation with its brutal history of genocide.”
Loung Ung, author of First They Killed My Father
“This is both the poignant story of a young woman seeking the truth about her father’s disappearance at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime, and an unflinching portrait of the executioner who oversaw the torture chamber where he was imprisoned. An unforgettable book.”
Elizabeth Becker, journalist and author of When the War Was Over: Cambodia and The Khmer Rouge Revolution
“Like Auschwitz, like Stalin's purges, the mass murders of the Khmer Rouge are one of those extraordinary events that make us wonder about the human capacity for evil. Through a profoundly moving tale that weaves together the connected stories of a victim, his surviving family, and members of the regime, Robert Carmichael brings us into the heart of the darkness that took over Cambodia, bringing it alive in the way no mere statistics can. I've not seen a comparable book about these horrors.”
Adam Hochschild, award-winning author of King Leopold's Ghost
“Combining extensive historical research and analysis with colourful narrative, When the Clouds Fell from the Sky is arguably the most vivid and terrifying literary portrait of the prison to date.”
The Phnom Penh Post
“When the Clouds Fell from the Sky recounts the poignant and painful story of Neary Ouk and the atrocities committed by the barbarous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Neary’s courageous search led to the appalling discovery that her father had been tortured and put to death in the accursed prison S-21. Much later, she found herself facing the murderer in court – an unbearable task. There are no words to describe such crimes.”
Denise Affonço, author of To the End of Hell: One Woman's Struggle to Survive Cambodia's Khmer Rouge
“In this brilliant and vivid book, Robert Carmichael skilfully weaves personal accounts with history and reflective analysis, giving essential context to the violence. It is a powerful and compelling story that avoids casting the perpetrators as 'monsters'; instead, showing them to be terrifyingly ordinary. And throughout, Martine and Neary's anguished quest for answers brings home the true scope of the suffering that reached far beyond the walls of S-21.”
Nic Dunlop, author of The Lost Executioner
"Crisply written, elegantly constructed and thoroughly researched, When the Clouds Fell from the Sky is a perceptive, often heart-breaking book.”
David Chandler, emeritus professor and author of Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison
“Few journalists have studied the Khmer Rouge tribunal as closely as Carmichael, whose book reveals the complex, often contradictory nature of international justice. What justice can be had when weighed against such crimes? It is an issue victims and observers alike have struggled with from the start . . . The book is like tracing paper, layering Ket's life over Cambodia's sad history. Threading it together are Martine and Ket's daughter Neary, whose early chance encounter with Carmichael yielded this extraordinary story.”
“A beautifully written book that does a masterful job weaving the history of the Khmer Rouge tribunal with a more personal story of human tragedy and redemption. This extremely thoughtful work is the product of its author’s deep understanding of Cambodia. Anyone trying to make sense of the Khmer Rouge war crimes court should read this timely book.”
Peter Maguire, author of Law and War, Facing Death in Cambodia and Thai Stick
"A Cold War history lesson that’s worth re-telling. Carmichael writes intelligently about a complicated subject that continues to haunt the survivors, be they Cambodians or anybody else from the myriad of foreign powers that dabbled in this country’s tragic history at their peril."
“A telling portrayal of the Khmer Rouge’s murderous regime.”
Fah Thai magazine