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Over 300 books were submitted for the coveted award, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize. When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge was one of the four Finalists for the Kiriyama Prize.


Finalist for the Pen USA West Literary Award

Surviving the horrors of the Khmer Rouge as a child, enduring starvation, forced labor, and profound loss, I found a new purpose in America. My memoir, When Broken Glass Floats, is more than my story—it's a tribute to the human family, a voice for the countless victims of this brutal regime, including my cherished parents and siblings. Receiving the Oregon Book Award from Literary Arts for my work is not only a personal triumph but also a symbolic victory for all those who suffered under the Khmer Rouge. This memoir is a monument, honoring the lives lost and the resilience of the human spirit.

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Oregon Book Awards Judge Kathleen Norris

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Kathleen Norris, the literary judge, chose my memoir When Broken Glass Floats over others like Counting Coup by Larry Colton, Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck, and The Happy Bottom Riding by Lauren Kessler.


She commented: "An extraordinary book that retains the freshness of a child's perspective even as it describes the unspeakable horrors of life under the Khmer Rouge. In giving witness to the persistence of hope and the strength of a family's love, Him reminds us that despots and ideologues do not have the last word."

During the prestigious Oregon Book Awards ceremony on November 8th, 2001, at the Scottish Rite Center, my absence was felt. I was committed to a talk and "Blessing Dance'" performance at the University of Montevallo.


In my stead, my friend Dr. Sopha Hang graciously accepted the award. She described the event as akin to the Oscars, with an air of grandeur and excitement. As the finalists for the literary non-fiction category were announced, the anticipation built.  Then came the moment: the reading of the winning excerpt. Dr. Hang instantly recognized it as from When Broken Glass Floats, signaling our victory.


In that electrifying moment, my photo and book cover illuminated the screen above the stage, marking a significant achievement not just for me, but for the story it carried....


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Dr. Sophal Hang, holding my memoir and the Award on November 8, 2001, at the Scottish Rite Center in Portland, Oregon.

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Excerpt from When Broken Glass Floats  that was read at the 2001 Oregon Book Awards ceremony.

"In 1969 war came, and I was only four.  

            Loud rumbling noises wake me.  I fumble in the dark, trying to open the mosquito netting around my bed.  I run in the dark toward the living room, searching for my mother and father.  "Mak!  Pa!" I scream with all my might, trying to compete with the raucous sounds. 

            From the living room, I hear my oldest sister, 12-year-old Chea, screaming:  "Mak!  Pa!  Yeakong chol srok Khmer! Yeakong chol srok Khmer!"  The Viet Cong are invading Cambodia!  Her voice itself is a blast of terror."


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Michelle Gillette & Chanrithy Him 

On November 9, 2001, in the unlikely setting of the women's restroom at Portland International Airport, I found comedy and joy intertwined.


Freshly informed of my Oregon Book Award win, I was adrift in elation, yet without a familiar face to share in the excitement. In dire need of a celebratory hug, yet wary of the bizarre implications of hugging random passersby, I paced, half-talking to myself about the win and Dr. Hang's forgotten call.

Then, Michelle Gillette appeared, like a serendipitous savior. Upon hearing my story, not only did she enthusiastically embrace me, but her excitement bubbled over with a request that was music to my ears.


"Do you have a copy of your book I can buy?" she asked, her eyes sparkling with eagerness.


In that moment, in the most unexpected of places, I found the perfect conclusion to my whirlwind of emotions: a spontaneous celebration, a heartfelt hug, and a new reader, all in a Portland airport restroom! :-)

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