The Lost Executioner chronicles photographer Nic Dunlop’s obsessive hunt for Comrade Duch, the man who presided over the deaths of thousands as the commandant of Tuol Sleng, Cambodia’s notorious interrogation centre, during the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge.
I wrote this review of Nic Dunlop’s The Lost Executioner for my books website SpikeMagazine.com, and I think it’s worth mentioning again here – here’s some more of the review:
“Between 1975 when the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia until 1979 when they were displaced by the invading Vietnamese, the ultra-leftist party instituted a Year Zero policy which was even more extreme than China’s Cultural Revolution and resulted in the murder of an estimated two million people – a quarter of the country’s population.
Duch, like every other major figure in the Khmer Rouge regime, successfully disappeared into Cambodia’s jungles when the Vietnamese arrived and, like the rest of the regime’s leaders, successfully avoided prosecution. To date, twenty five years after Cambodia’s auto-genocide, none of the key proponents have been brought to trial. Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge’s leader, died of old age in 1998.
For Dunlop, seeing a photo of Comrade Duch set something off inside him that made him want to find the former commandant. This search provides the engine for his book, fusing the detective work necessary to finding Duch with the travelogue of exploring modern day Cambodia. Dunlop interweaves details of Cambodia’s awful recent history within his journey, providing a powerful narrative that avoids the dryness of traditional historical analysis but does not hold back on dealing with the vast complexities of how the Khmer Rouge came to power and the fallout of their overthrow. Both John Pilger and David Chandler, Cambodia’s pre-eminent Western historian, are given major credit in the Acknowledgements for helping Dunlop refine the historical accuracy of his text and this, for me, is vital as a demonstration of Dunlop’s attempt to write more than a simple, observational travel book.
Instead, Dunlop gives an account of his own, personal journey, not just through the cities and countryside of Cambodia but through the country’s history and how his own history has intertwined with it. The reader, then, accompanies Dunlop as he tries to come to grips with understanding Cambodia as a foreigner, as his learning and perceptions of the country he is fascinated by shift and change over time – and as he questions his own opinions and perspectives about prosecuting the Khmer Rouge commanders, and the very nature of how justice can be achieved and carried out. Integral to this journey – and a vital part of this book – are the personal testimonies of those Dunlop meets who were both victim and perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities.”
You can read my full review of The Lost Executioner at SpikeMagazine.com.