Dogs at the Perimeter, first published in Canada in 2011, reads like a seed of the later novel [Do Not Say We Have Nothing]: contrapuntal and elegiac in tone, with a white heat beneath. Where Do Not Say We Have Nothing is symphonic and expansive, Dogs at the Perimeter turns inward, to the workings of a mind in flight from itself. Such are Thien’s gifts that she can write lyrically about horror without stripping it of force.
It's never clear who is searching for whom; but it captures the random terror and chaos of Year Zero and presents a credible portrait of Phnom Penh … Thien's observations of the ravaged country maintain a fine balance between lyricism and horror.
Many writers use gradual revelations of a character's troubled history to propel a novel forward. In Dogs at the Perimeter, Madeleine Thien's emphasis is subtly different: her preoccupation is with how her characters can learn to live with history's groaning weight … The strife in Indo-China has inspired some astonishing writing in recent decades, both fiction and non-fiction. Dogs at the Perimeter belongs with the best of such works. But it also tells a more universal story about being borne back into the past—and the inescapability of history.
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 … 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.
The novel’s fragmentary, repetitive structure mirrors both the way the past bleeds into the present and how the lives of the characters themselves bleed together … A troubling, difficult read and a worthwhile addition to the growing body of work on the Cambodian holocaust.
The fragmented focus on two families broken by the revolution leaves both stories hauntingly unfinished, an effective narrative decision. Thien narrates events to effectively mimic the mental breakdown of her characters under duress. This lyrical exploration of the weight war places on its survivors will linger with readers as it sheds light on the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.