Bamboo Promise: The Last Straw Vol.2 PTSD Self-Healing

Vicheara Houn

Publisher: iUniverse Pages: 300 Price: (paperback) $20.99 ISBN: 9781532015007 Reviewed: June, 2017 Author Website: Visit »

Bamboo Promise: The Last Straw, the second volume of Vicheara Houn’s 2012 memoir about surviving Cambodia’s Killing Fields in the late 1970s, is part memoir, part case study of her own PTSD and eventual healing.

After Pol Pot’s invasion of her homeland and her resettlement in the U.S., Houn continued to experience abuse. She escaped slave labor in Phnom Penh only to be subjugated by the man who later married her. She divorced him, but worked for a heartless boss. After her PTSD diagnosis, which she refers to as an “invisible war,” Houn saw how it ruled her life: It was “my past doing battle with my present.” Turning to ancient Eastern practices and Western psychotherapy, she eventually regained her mental and physical health.

The strength of Houn’s narrative is her distinctive voice. Her emotionally authentic writing makes palpable her fear, despair and loss. Yet while her writing can be elegant —in a passage about being on the brink of starvation, she says, “My meals were nothing but pain and tears. I had to swallow them all”—she often peppers her quotes with “uh,” “huh” and “What!” which can muddy her meaning. For example, in a discussion, a friend asks, “Vicheara? Do you know what happened next?” Houn responds, “Yes…Uhhh…No.”)

The narrative offers expert commentary on PTSD after each chapter, analyzing the chapter in the context of the disorder. This often feels redundant and interrupts the flow of Houn’s raw, first-hand accounts, diminishing their impact. Less obtrusive would be an introduction to the book written by the PTSD expert, framing Houn’s experience in those terms. (The commentary oddly placed on page 10 largely fulfills this function.)  This  would add gravitas to Houn’s work without disrupting her voice, making it a must-read for other trauma survivors.

Despite any issues, there is much to recommend this book, and Houn’s heartfelt story of sorrow and loss will make readers feel like cheering at its triumphant end.

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