The bulk of the book takes place under Angkar, but when, in December 1978, Vietnam invades the country, Veasna’s family – or what remains of it – flee to Thailand, braving people smugglers, overcrowded camps and misinformation. The pace here is notably swifter: so much of the story of the Khmer Rouge years has been marked by long periods of hunger and grinding misery, punctuated by shock. The book ends with the author briefly touching on the present. He and his family wear colourful clothes, iron shirts, play in the snow, visit restaurants. The normality of their current lives is shockingly dissonant compared to those lived in the book. The effect is beautiful and jarring.
Year of the Rabbit is an account of terror and unimaginable loss. But it’s not only this. I felt slightly guilty that I found it so exciting – and it was an education, too. Veasna punctuates his story with detailed historical maps, and with a series of darkly funny panels in which he details some of the loopier and more arcane beliefs and practices of the Khmer Rouge. In one, he explains how a person might look like an enemy of the state (appear elegant or distinguished; hesitate when asked about the past).