First published in France, Year of the Rabbit tells the true story of the author's family's desperate struggle to survive the murderous reign of the Khmer Rouge, which seized power in Cambodia in 1975.
Tian Veasna's brilliant and powerful book...is extremely nimble, making easy work of complex political history. But it’s also exquisitely spare. Sometimes, there is nothing to be said; no words are adequate. In these moments, Veasna lets his brush do the talking. Like a bird, he soars above the country where he was born, gazing down on its gutted cities, on its workers slaving in the fields. The documentary precision of his landscapes seems to do the work of a thousand written pages ... an account of terror and unimaginable loss. But it’s not only this. I felt slightly guilty that I found it so exciting—and it was an education, too.
This page-turner plunges us from the start into the chaos without the mooring—and the editorializing—of an overarching narrator (Veasna forgoes the first person entirely) ... Year of the Rabbit uses the hybridity of word and image to dramatic and ironic effect, frequently allowing the propaganda blaring from speakers to be contradicted by the drawings that unfurl on the page ... Veasna’s line is loose and modest, particularly in his stripped-down rendering of faces. While printed on a white page, his panels are bordered in black and separated by black gutters, a technique that lends the book a dark tone and suggests the suffocating omnipresence of the Khmer Rouge. The book offers an eerie, muted palette of mostly secondary colors. Pages can feel waterlogged, drained of vibrancy; a queasy light green is a frequent backdrop ... Year of the Rabbit evokes, even if it can’t replicate, a taste of the relentlessness its central players and millions like them endured.
Veasna’s energetic, loose lines are perfectly suited to capturing the nuances of the chaos and confusion. His art has the quality of a snapshot sketch, pinning a moment to the page: wide, frightened eyes; mud sliding under rubber sandals; the drip of rice gruel from a spoon. Although Year of the Rabbit primarily follows Khim and Lina (Veasna’s parents), there are multiple overlapping storylines; Veasna’s clear, characterful style makes it easy for the reader to follow the various threads ... Year of the Rabbit movingly depicts the rising terror of the Khmer Rouge years ... beautiful and jarring.