“I was born on the Cambodian New Year in a refugee camp, but my parents never told me much more than that, only that I was the lucky one. Years later, I realized how lucky I really was. Before I was born, everyone in my family—my parents, my two older sisters—all survived the Cambodian genocide.”
Born in a refugee camp on Cambodian New Year’s Day, Socheata Poeuv has always been called “the lucky one” by her family. Her parents survived the Khmer Rouge genocide, escaped to Thailand and moved the entire family to Texas. In the United States, Socheata’s mother and father never talked about what happened in Cambodia, focusing instead on giving the kids a “normal American life.”
On Christmas Day of 2002, Socheata’s parents gathered the family to reveal a secret they had kept for more than 25 years: that her older sisters were actually her cousins, and her brother was her half-brother, the child of her mother’s previous marriage. Reeling from this new information, Socheata wondered what other secrets her parents might have left behind in Cambodia.
In NEW YEAR BABY, Socheata embarks on an emotional journey with her parents to their homeland, retracing the family’s path and picking up lost pieces of her history along the way. But to get to the bottom of her family’s story, she must understand what happened to their former country as well.
Using animation to illustrate family memories and Cambodia’s history, NEW YEAR BABY intertwines the stories of Socheata’s parents with those of millions of others who suffered under the Khmer Rouge. In less than four years, more than 1.7 million Cambodians—about one-fourth of the population—died from starvation, disease or execution.
Taking her parents back to the concentration camp where they had once been held, Socheata pleads, prods and pries, trying to get them to answer questions they have dodged so many times before. How did they, a mismatched couple with little in common, come to marry? What happened to them in the Khmer Rouge labor camps? How did they survive the genocide when so many others died? And why had they never told the truth? NEW YEAR BABY discovers that long-held secrets hide not only painful memories, but also love forged under inhuman conditions.
Since 2007, five former Khmer Rouge leaders have been detained by an international, United Nations-backed genocide tribunal in Cambodia, held on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Trials are scheduled to begin in late 2008.