In writing Master of Confessions, Cruvellier covers the trial of Duch, a former Khmer Rouge operative. Cruvellier, a seasoned Journalist – the only journalist to cover all contemporary international tribunals for war crimes – covers Duch’s trial from start to finish. For the layperson, not much is known about the Democratic Kampuchea; even less is known about the people at the heart of it. Everyone has heard the horror stories of killing fields and death camps, but the Angkar (the “Organization”) was and is the definition of mystery and fear. Through Cruvellier’s lens we learn about one of the upper operatives who ran a detention facility in the heart of Phnom Penh.
It is hard to get a sense of time in Cruvellier’s narrative, as he moves between earlier Cambodian history, the terrifying period of the Khmer Rouge, and the trial itself. His writing is sometimes a little disjointed, with a couple non-sequiturs that leave the reader a little perplexed. But overall this is a fascinating glimpse into history and the international tribunal system. As a seasoned witness to international tribunals, Cruvellier is able to instill in us the cynicism and sense of futility that comes with trying to hold someone accountable for crimes that are larger than life. Cruvellier hits his stride in the last handful of chapters, as he wraps up the trial with closing arguments. His style shifts between sardonic and beautifully poetic as he unfolds a situation that begs us to look past the blind hate and mob cry for justice. This book begs us to realize that these crimes will continue to happen again and again, if we refuse to acknowledge the humanity of those who commit them. For a history buff this is a must read, for the average individual it is interesting, and for the person willing to do some soul searching the experience of this book can be profound.
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