STARRED REVIEW
October 03, 2017

Two survivors, bound by friendship and loss

By Madeleine Thien

In 2016, Canadian novelist Madeleine Thien garnered international attention when Do Not Say We Have Nothing was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Now an earlier novel, Dogs at the Perimeter, will be available to American readers. A deeply moving story about the complexity and pain of survival, it confirms Thien’s place as one of the most gifted novelists writing today.

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In 2016, Canadian novelist Madeleine Thien garnered international attention when Do Not Say We Have Nothing was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Now an earlier novel, Dogs at the Perimeter, will be available to American readers. A deeply moving story about the complexity and pain of survival, it confirms Thien’s place as one of the most gifted novelists writing today.

Janie, whose birth name we never know, lived in Phnom Penh with her parents and younger brother, Sopham. After the Khmer Rouge entered the city in April 1975, her father was separated from the rest of the family and Janie never saw him again. The rest of the family were sent to a forced labor camp where Janie witnessed her mother’s slow death from starvation and madness, while Sopham trained, at the age of 8, to be an interrogator for their captors.

Janie escaped by sea and was raised by a Canadian family. Decades later, she lives in Montreal with a husband and young son and a fulfilling job as a scientist. But when her colleague Hiroji Matsui returns to Cambodia to search for his missing brother, traumatic wartime memories return. After lashing out at her son, she moves into Matsui’s empty apartment to try and make sense of her past.

Hiroji’s story mirrors Janie’s; his Japanese family moved to Vancouver after World War II. His older brother, James, was working with the Red Cross in Cambodian refugee camps when he disappeared in 1975. Haunted by the loss, Matsui makes frequent trips to the area, only to come up empty-handed every time.

Thien explores the complexities of her characters and the intensity of their pain in prose that is both poetic and succinct. Janie and Hiroji are marvelous creations, and their friendship, which transcends their suffering, is movingly portrayed. This is a novel that is both heartbreaking and hopeful. With luck, all of Thien’s other novels and stories will soon be available to American readers.

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Dogs at the Perimeter

Dogs at the Perimeter

By Madeleine Thien
Norton
ISBN 9780393354300

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