“Remember this night,” he said. “Mark it in your memories because tomorrow everything changes.”
One starless night, a girl’s childhood was swept away by the terrors of the Khmer Rouge. Exiled from the city, she and her family were forced to live out in the open under constant surveillance. Each night, people were taken away. Caught up in a political storm which brought starvation to millions, tore families apart, and changed the world forever, she lost everyone she loved.
Three decades later, Janie’s life in Montreal is unravelling. Haunted by her past, she has abandoned her husband and son and taken refuge in the home of her friend, the brilliant, troubled scientist, Hiroji Matsui. In 1970, Hiroji’s brother, James, travelled to Cambodia and fell in love. Five years later, the Khmer Rouge came to power, and James vanished. Brought together by the losses they endured, Janie and Hiroji had found solace in each another. And then, one strange day, Hiroji disappeared.
Engulfed by the memories she thought she had fled, Janie must struggle to find grace in a world overshadowed by the sorrows of her past.
Beautifully realized, deeply affecting, Dogs at the Perimeter evokes totalitarianism through the eyes of a little girl and draws a remarkable map of the mind’s battle with memory, loss, and the horrors of war. It confirms Madeleine Thien as one of the most gifted and powerful novelists writing today.
When Janie's friend and colleague Hiroji disappears from Montreal, Janie's memories catapult her back to her youth in Cambodia just after the Khmer Rouge revolution. In a long flashback told in the uncertain and terrified voice of a child, she remembers in gruesome but increasingly detached detail her family's forced relocation from Phnom Penh, the slave labor conditions they endured, and her eventual escape as a refugee. Back in the present day, Janie travels to Laos certain that Hiroji is not dead but rather has gone in search of his lost brother, a Japanese-born Red Cross doctor not heard from since his assignment during the Cambodian Civil War. Her story recedes as Thien fills in the painful story of Hiroji's brother, whose survival under the brutal regime required him to entirely forget his past. The fragmented focus on two families broken by the revolution leaves both stories hauntingly unfinished, an effective narrative decision. Thien (Do Not Say We Have Nothing) narrates events to effectively mimic the mental breakdown of her characters under duress. This lyrical exploration of the weight war places on its survivors will linger with readers as it sheds light on the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.