In 1975, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia after expelling a US puppet regime, surviving a brutal US bombing campaign despite the massive asymmetry between the Cambodian forces and the US military. Tian Veasna was born three days after the Khmer Rouge took power, and spent his formative years in forced labor camps as his family were beaten, starved, tortured and murdered. Today, Veasna is a comics creator living in France, and in Year of the Rabbit, Veasna creates a coherent story out of his family's narratives, giving us a ground-level view of the horrors of the Pol Pot regime, whose campaign of genocide led to the deaths of more than a million people.
Year of the Rabbit is firmly in the tradition of other graphic novels of genocide, such as Art Spiegelman's classic, Pulitzer-winning Maus, but Veasna's reconstructing a much less-well-known holocaust, one whose perverse terrors were every bit as sadistic and grotesque as the Nazi extermination campaigns.
Veasna perfectly captures that Anne Frank feeling of waking nightmare, in which the natural human tendency to assume that things can't be as bad as they seem leads people into deeper and deeper danger, as their tormentors find new reservoirs of depraved cruelty to dip into.
And likewise, this book captures the indomitability of the human spirit, the perseverance and kindnesses, the inventiveness and resourcefulness of people helping one another even when they have nothing.
Today, Cambodia is a very different kind of corrupt dictatorship, but despite its dictatorial government, it has brought some of the masterminds of the Cambodian genocide to account. Narratives like Veasna's are critical to understanding what happened and to guard against it ever happening again.