When Broken Glass Floats tells the true story of a 10 year-old girl who has been forcibly removed from her home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia along with her entire family in the wake of the successful coup by the Khmer Rouge.  With an almost photographic memory, the author takes the reader through four years of horrors under Angkar rule and the difficulty her family had in maintaining the loving bond between them.  Amidst the tragedy to the author’s family, the book retains positivity as it ends.

The book’s title comes from a Cambodian proverb – ‘broken glass floats when evil triumphs over good’.

Discussion Questions

Please note that some of the discussion points below may act as spoilers for the book’s content

The book contains some upsetting content and is not suitable for younger readers.

  1. for what reasons did the Khmer Rouge murder the author’s father?
  1. to what extent did the author’s Mak help her survive the genocide?
  1. disease and starvation were rampant in the Angkar camps.  Did this somehow fit into the Khmer Rouge’s idea of ‘Year Zero’?
  1. why did the Khmer Rouge guard spare Him’s life when she was caught stealing?
  1. what feelings must the author have had upon leaving Cambodia and crossing the border to Thailand?
  1. do you think the author has succeeded in speaking for those without a voice and in bringing some sort of justice to the victims of the Cambodian genocide?
  1. how did the survivors of the genocide come to terms with what happened to their families and their country?
  1. when the author leaves for America she describes herself and her remaining family members as ‘like the dust of history being blown away’.  Can you understand this feeling?

You can use HMD resources to find out more about:

The Genocide in Cambodia

You can also read about the life stories of survivors of the Genocide in Cambodia

Download this book group activity