Noy Thrupkaew

Noy Thrupkaew is a Prospect senior correspondent.

Recent Articles

Speak, Memory

The movie was born of a fateful accident, director Rithy Panh told me over coffee in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, last year. That film is S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine , Panh's harrowing documentary about the ultra-Maoist movement's main detention center, a Phnom Penh high school that was transformed into an interrogation, torture, and death camp, code-named S-21. Now making its way across the United States, S21 sheds a harsh light on some of the issues raised on a smaller scale at Abu Ghraib -- about the documentation of prisoners' mistreatment, and on environments where the dehumanization of detainees has become routine. During the nearly four years the Khmer Rouge had control over Cambodia, from 1975 to 1979, nearly 1.7 million Cambodians died of starvation, overwork, disease, or were executed. About 14,000 people were sent to S-21 or Tuol Sleng; only seven survived. Tuol Sleng is now a museum featuring thousands of pictures of the former prisoners (taken by their meticulous...

Howard's Beginnings

The beginning of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States breaks open with the force of a thunderclap. The historian sets the stage for the encounter between Christopher Columbus and the Arawak people of the Bahama Islands in one spare paragraph: Upon catching sight of the explorer and his crew, the natives “ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts.” Zinn then allows Columbus to take over the narrative. The Spaniard lingers a moment over the Arawaks' hospitality and physical beauty -- “They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.” -- before concluding, “They would make fine servants … . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Those two paragraphs have a deadly elegance. They lull the reader into a sort of idyll, a dreamy, coiling narrative -- natives “full of wonder,” wading out with gifts, the explorer's own appreciation -- before snapping like a scorpion's stinger. The techniques used in the opening are...

Follow the (Saudi) Money

Head north out of Phnom Penh, and within a few miles the cacophonous traffic of Cambodia's capital gives way to herds of oxen and water buffalo, their shoulder blades rolling underneath their hides. As you travel, the riverside restaurants -- frequented by well-off Khmers and thick with neon lights and the sound of karaoke -- grow fewer and farther. Soon there is nothing but rice fields, the great brown swath of the Mekong River; and then, rising out of the flat landscape with surprising suddenness, an onion-shaped dome. The dome crowns the al-Mukara Islamic School, home to more than 500 Cambodian Muslim students before a police raid in May 2003 sent the children streaming out of the gates with their hastily packed luggage. Three foreign-born men affiliated with the school and the Saudi charity that ran the institution were arrested; a Cambodian teacher at another Islamic school was detained a few weeks later. All were charged with “international terrorism with links to Jemaah...

Journey from Hell

My mother told me about drug mules when I was 6. It was her ingenious way of keeping me from running amok in Bangkok's Don Muang airport. “Someone will kidnap you!” she hissed, clamping her monstrous little bird claw on my wrist. “And make you swallow the drug! And then” -- the claw gripped tighter -- “you have to poo everything out for them.” I goggled at her, and then stapled myself to her side until we got to the States. I filed that story away for nightmare use, as I did her wisdom on the unthinkable horrors of tampons and the perils of swallowing roasted watermelon seeds whole. Later on, I half-dismissed the tale as a product of the unknowable darkness of the maternal mind -- part gory detritus from my mother's ER-doctor life and part dreck from the Thai magazines she pored over on the weekends. As a result, the true awfulness of the story dawned on me only recently, after I witnessed the ordeal of the young protagonist in the feature film Maria Full of Grace . That realization...

… And Therapy for All

Legendary metal band Metallica has wreaked a lot of havoc over its 23 years. “Blistering,” “lacerating,” “gut-assaulting,” and “bone-crunching” are the terms most often used to describe the band's oeuvre -- words more frequently associated with bodily harm than with the experience of listening to a CD. That seems like an awful lot of anger to sustain all the way from the angry '80s to our post–Dr. Phil era. If Metallica has unleashed that much mayhem upon its listeners over the years, what has been the toll on the musicians who produce it? A devastating one, as revealed in the feature documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster . Directors Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger followed the band around during a particularly turbulent period -- from 2001 to 2003, right after bassist Jason Newsted quit in a fury over his bandmates' possessive, control-freak ways. The musicians had also launched a wildly unpopular suit against file-sharing service Napster and had started producing records (...

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