First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

Loung presents the reader with a straightforward and heartbreaking account of the Cambodian genocide through her first-person perspective as a child struggling to survive. She does a fantastic job of humanizing the experience, displaying a singular perspective of an era which can be hard to empathize with otherwise due to its unimaginably vast and horrific nature (including the death of millions). The contrast between Loung and her relatives is particularly beautiful in showing the different ways that humans can cope under extreme duress. While she is headstrong and fueled by rage, her sister Chou endures through passivity. Loung’s description of the desperate actions taken out of fear, hunger, and anger are especially enlightening. The prose is fairly simple and the internal monologue comes off as repetitive at times, though this bolsters the book’s childish lens. Loung focuses almost entirely on portraying the narrative of her family; do not expect a complete overview of the genocide or any political analysis.

Finally the women stand still. Their weapons drip with blood as they walk away. When they turn around, I see that they look like death themselves. Their hair trickles blood and sweat, their clothes drip, their faces red and rigid. Only their eyes look alive as they seethe with more rage and hate. The women are quiet as the crowd parts for them to pass through. During the execution, the crowd did not cheer but watched, silent and devoid of emotion, as if it were the slaughter of an animal for food. After the women are gone, the crowd begins to buzz.

In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio

Anthropologist Philippe Bourgois lives in El Barrio (an impoverished neighborhood in East Harlem, then mostly populated by Puerto Ricans) from 1985 to 1990 and befriends a network of crack dealers. Through transcriptions of tape recordings combined with historical contextualization and socioeconomic analysis, he paints a vivid picture of broken families who want out of this lifestyle but face countless hurdles from institutional racism. Generational trauma is maintained by a cycle of physical/sexual/emotional abuse and drug addiction. The characters are not easy to like yet their humanity is made obvious. Read more

Trotsky’s Terrible Tuesday

(Written in April 2019)

It’s the tail end of a gorgeous summer day in Coyoacán. It’s August 20, 1940; the Communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia Sedova are drinking mint tea in the garden of their villa in this rural borough of Mexico City. They’re sitting on a stone bench under the shade of many tall royal palmetto trees, facing the garden of tropical flowers and rare cacti which Trotsky has meticulously cultivated these past few years. Thoroughly-needled tubes of mammillaria glochidiata cacti are backed by a shrub of pink dahlias with thousands of small tongue-like petals. Clucking comes from their nearby enclosure of chickens and the resonant plucking of a guitarrón is heard in the distance.

The stress from years of exile has aged the pair. Both of their hairs have faded to gray and Trotsky has put on a few pounds. The quiet lifestyle of this Mexican villa suits them, however, and it shows in their relaxed apparel. He is wearing a sleek white button-down and gray trousers (having ditched the suit jacket in this climate) and Natalia is in only a thin striped blouse and a long black skirt.

Continue reading “Trotsky’s Terrible Tuesday”


(Written in April 2019)

March 30, 2011. My first big item, a Nintendo 3DS. At this point, I’d been stealing on a near-daily basis. It started with that bag of chips in the school cafeteria but it quickly progressed to retail. At first I’d justify it to myself as stealing things that I wanted so I didn’t have to pay for them, but I knew that I was really doing it for the rush. The rush you get from the weight of your full pockets, and that rush you get when the automatic door opens and your thieving ass is safe.

I got Trey roped into this early on, and I’ve not since experienced a bond at all similar to the kind that I formed with this partner in crime. Video games were our treasure of choice since we didn’t need to sell games to get value out of them. You just had to locate the security camera, get your buddy to cover you, and slip that game in your pocket. Then you had the choice of walking out nonchalantly or buying some cheap item as a decoy if anyone gave you a funny look. Of course, we would steal anything if we felt like it; even something as monotonous as a pack of batteries. Trey and I thought of ourselves as redistributors of wealth, not villains.

Continue reading “Faraday”


(Written in April 2019)

It’s a hot August day on Rikers Island. Of course, I can only tell that it’s daytime from the rays of light shining between the bars of this cell’s tiny window. No one’s been around to enforce bedtime in days, nor let anyone out for a meal, shower, or recreation in the yard. That fucker down the hall is moaning again. Does he think anyone hears him? Nobody’s coming to help you, buddy! Can’t you smell the death stinking up this shithole, begging for the sweet escape of an open window, a door, anything​? The stench of the diarrhea and vomit that soaks the clothes of my criminal neighbors had gone from an infuriating olfactory presence to my new normal.

My name’s Eric Porter, and I guess I’m a survivor. Oops, that sounded like a hokey line from an NA meeting. Well, it’s true. Every night last week, the whole block would huddle around the big wall-mounted CRT TV over in the rec room to get the latest updates on the superflu. It popped up in Montana and spread hundreds of miles in a flash. 100% lethality and seemingly airborne transmission. Of course there was a riot in here when the news came that it was in New York, but what could we do when they brought out the tear gas and tasers? Into your cell you go and into your cell you die.

Except me. And that other guy. That was 5 days ago so I’m starting to get hungry in spite of the stench. All I’ve had to eat is some of the skin above my fingernails, but I’ve been doing that since I had to kick meth on account of my imprisonment. I’m not too far above moany guy, I just express myself differently. Right after the cell block got real quiet, my favorite pasttime was to poke my nose through my cell door and shake the thick white bars hoping that someone would come rescue us. Now I’ve given up and await impending doom. I lay in my hard, white cot and stare at the hard, gritty ceiling to conserve energy, only getting up to relieve myself in the stainless steel toilet or drink water from the tap above it.

Continue reading “Positive”