Crossing Three Wildernesses

A memoir by U Sam Oeur with Ken McCullough

May 1, 2005 • 6 x 9 • 320 pages • 978-1-56689-167-1

The first memoir from a pre-Khmer Rouge government official who miraculously survived the Cambodian killing fields.

Death by execution, death by disease, and death by starvation are the three wildernesses Cambodians were forced to traverse during the Khmer Rouge regime. In a harrowing but ultimately triumphant affirmation of the human spirit, celebrated Cambodian poet U Sam Oeur narrates his incredible life story, testifies to the horrors of genocide, and shares his fervent prayers for peace and freedom through the process of democracy.

Crossing Three Wildernesses is a personal account of survival, an astute political analysis, and a beautiful illustration of the Cambodian culture—its people, myths, and traditions. In a world still plagued by the atrocities of war, this remarkable memoir is a moving call to freedom and a passionate plea for peace.

About the Author

U Sam Oeur grew up in a Cambodian farming family. After studying in the US, he served in the Cambodian government, becoming part of the Cambodian delegation to the UN. When Pol Pot assumed power in 1975, Oeur, along with his wife and son, survived the killing fields while feigning illiteracy in six forced-labor camps. A devout Buddhist, Oeur now lives in Texas.

Poet and translator Ken McCullough’s recent books include Walking Backwards and Obsidian Point. He has received numerous awards for his poetry including a Pablo Neruda Award, Galway Kinnell Poetry Award, and New Millenium Poetry Award. He translated U Sam Oeur’s Sacred Vows and wrote the lyrics for the chamber opera, "The Krasang Tree," based on Oeur’s poetry and experiences.

Thanks to a 2013 ADA Access Improvement Grant administered by VSA Minnesota for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, this title is also formatted for screen readers which make text accessible to the blind and visually impaired. To purchase this title for use with a screen reader please call (612) 338-0125 or email us at info@coffeehousepress.org.


“[This] compelling account is a window into the human experience underneath a story often told in terms of incomprehensible statistics.” Star Tribune

“U Sam Oeur’s book depicts the Pol Pot era in a new light. Oeur was born in the rice paddies and rose to a position of influence in the government. His book is about the customs and beliefs of everyday Cambodian life. He was sustained by his belief in the democratic ideals he learned while studying in the United States. His book takes the reader from the end of the French Colonial period, through Prince Sihanouk’s efforts to introduce democratic reform. He explores the failure of the Khmer Republic and the struggle for power after Pol Pot was overthrown. Reading his book is like being there. It is a mixture of Buddhism and democracy. I am very proud of his effort to make the struggles of our country understandable.” —Dith Pran

“U Sam Oeur’s memoir is more than the history of one man’s remarkable life and his struggle to survive the most impossible circumstances perhaps ever contrived. Because we, as Americans, are inextricably bound to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, this book is also a history of all out lives. Meticulously honest and clearheaded in that dharmic way, Crossing Three Wildernesses will surely take its place among those books we must read to understand what it means to be fully who we are. This is a truly brave story, shaped and fine-tuned into an engaging and ultimately moving book.” —Bruce Weigl, author of The Circle of Hanh