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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
"The Last One" is Marin Yann's memoir of his life in Cambodia. He was about 5 years old when the Khmer Rouge grabbed power in that country. Marin last saw his father when he was invited to work on a far-away project, and his mother died in a hospital not long after, leaving Marin without any family save for the brief times he got to spend with his sister Vanny. The work camps where Marin was forced to live were harsh places where there was little food, and he learned how to catch and eat insects, frogs, snakes and fish to supplement his meals. After the work camps were disbanded, Marin found foster families who were supportive at first, but then the stress and hardships of that time seemed to eventually turn even the kindest aunty into an abusive and hurtful stranger.
This is an incredibly powerful memoir of a time and place unfamiliar to many because of the overwhelming impact of the Vietnam conflict. Marin Yann's tale is stark and sobering, but infinitely readable. There is lyricism in the accounts of the youthful hunter's joy at catching fish and brief moments at play and horror in his fear of working in the leech-infested rice fields which is overshadowed by the all-too-real danger of execution for failure to obey. There is no political message or agenda as might sometimes appear in memoirs of this nature; it is simply an honest and moving account of how this remarkable child managed to survive under incredibly harsh and brutal circumstances.