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Dogs at the Perimeter by Madeleine Thien

Dogs at the Perimeter (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Madeleine Thien

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565210,933 (3.71)11
Title:Dogs at the Perimeter
Authors:Madeleine Thien
Info:McClelland & Stewart (2011), Hardcover, 264 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Canada, Cambodia

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Dogs at the Perimeter by Madeleine Thien (2011)



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Showing 5 of 5
This book is beautifully written and completely engrossing. It is not a typical book about war, nor was the war in Cambodia typical in any respect. It is an analysis on "identity" both personal and national and how people can move intentionally or unintentionally between those identities. As a student of many cultures, I found it fascinating to have some light shed on this tragic wound of Cambodian history which is too deep and too fresh to heal. ( )
  JenBurge | Mar 20, 2015 |
I found i couldn't follow this book at all, wasnt sure if she was in the past or the present and who she was relating to at times. The description of the genocide was horrifying spoken from a child's point of view , and this was probably the most engaging thing about this book, I was a bit dissapointed in myself as I thought I would get more from this author's story. ( )
  Suzannie1 | May 4, 2014 |
Amazon summary: One starless night, a girl’s childhood was swept away by the terrors of the Khmer Rouge. Exiled from the city, she and her family were forced to live out in the open under constant surveillance. Each night, people were taken away. Caught up in a political storm which brought starvation to millions, tore families apart, and changed the world forever, she lost everyone she loved.
Three decades later, Janie’s life in Montreal is unravelling. Haunted by her past, she has abandoned her husband and son and taken refuge in the home of her friend, the brilliant, troubled scientist, Hiroji Matsui. In 1970, Hiroji’s brother, James, travelled to Cambodia and fell in love. Five years later, the Khmer Rouge came to power, and James vanished. Brought together by the losses they endured, Janie and Hiroji had found solace in each another. And then, one strange day, Hiroji disappeared.
Engulfed by the memories she thought she had fled, Janie must struggle to find grace in a world overshadowed by the sorrows of her past. ( )
  dalzan | Apr 24, 2013 |
This review was first published in Belletrista.

Over this past summer, Case 002 was getting underway in the Cambodian legal system. This is the trial of several of the top Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of genocide, torture and crimes against humanity for their roles in what has become known popularly as the Killing Fields. During the four year period of their power, some estimates say that as many as one quarter of Cambodia's entire population was killed, a statistic that makes the count inherent in the term "decimate" seem paltry. Madeleine Thien's contribution to holocaust (small h) literature surfaces out of that period.

The skeleton of the story is set in 2006: Janie, a neurological researcher who came to Canada as an orphaned 11 year old fleeing the Khmer Rouge, becomes fixated on finding Hiroji, an older friend and fellow researcher who has disappeared. The meat of the story, however, lies 25 years farther into the past. Janie's suspicion that Hiroji is seeking his brother, James, a medical relief doctor who vanished at the end of the Cambodian civil war, has brought up overwhelming memories of the destruction of her family and the horrors she, herself, endured. The divide between Janie Now and the Child Then — a person she doesn't even name, calling herself only Mei, a name given by a prison guard meaning beautiful — is one she has never reconciled. Unable to suppress the past anymore, she starts to let go of her present, leaving her husband and young son and withdrawing from her job.

This theme of fragmented and broken chains of identity permeates the story. Fault lines can be created in the soul, whether from the internal bio-chemical disorders of Janie's patients or the external forces of Khmer Rouge brainwashing and torture, and a life you once had is torn from you and something else takes its place. Those who cannot accept that, who lose the past or refuse the present, remain crippled. Only, as Janie says, by trying to "steal back and piece together" our many lives can some measure of wholeness be found.

It's not always an easy book to read due to Thien's writing style. On one hand, it's frugal, sometimes leaving out signals of changes in time or person. On the other, it's almost visual rather than verbal, using short mental images (sometimes surreal) to convey feeling and tone. The result is, at times, something like an Impressionist painting: if you look closely at the details, it doesn't make much sense; you have to step back and take in the entire image, letting your mind fill in the details.

One might expect that the content of a story with genocide as a setting might be difficult to stomach but it isn't particularly so: the horrors of torture, murder and rape take place largely off stage. This is almost necessary since the later lives of characters are already pale in comparison to the intensity of their pasts, making it hard enough to come to grips with what they have become. Even more so than the writing style, this insubstantiality forces readers to work hard at the end. Thien does not hand you the answers to where the characters have ended up; you must puzzle out for yourself how Janie has resolved the fragmentation of her life or, indeed, if she has even resolved it at all.

This is a book that tends more toward examining consequences rather than causes. When Janie says, "One day, I promise, I'll find a way to tell you everything," she isn't speaking to the reader for we are told relatively little about the Killing Fields. This fictional exploration is a welcome addition to the testamentary memoirs and historical analyses that naturally follow soon after a catastrophe. To some extent, the literature of the Holocaust (capital h) and the Stalinist Purges have dominated our consciousness of 20th century genocide for decades. However, the second half of that century was as bloody as the first and merits equal attention. ( )
1 vote TadAD | Nov 4, 2011 |
Showing 5 of 5

If for each season there is a book, then Dogs at the Perimeter belongs to winter -and in particular to the sullen clouds and ever-looming darkness of November. Depicting a "broken world [that] finally fell apart," Madeleine Thien's sophomore novel is mournful, gloomy, despairing and monochromatic. Not a novel with a reader's enjoyment anywhere in its agenda, Dogs can be instead witnessed, puzzled over and, on occasion, merely endured.

In stark, beautiful prose, Thien (whose first work of fiction, Simple Recipes, was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book) shows that it’s through these characters’ relationships with others—like James’s complicated bond with his brother, or Janie’s with her husband and son, and the connection between Janie and Hiroji—that a more permanent identity is created.

Among the numerous episodes of mass murder characteristic of the 20th century, the reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia stands out as one of the most bizarre and horrifying. Overrunning Cambodia in 1975, this revolutionary army waged war on half the population of the country — anybody educated, middle class, living in a city. Before the Khmer Rouge or the Angkar (the organization) were finished, well over a million Cambodians had died at their hands.

“Families are a disease of the past,” ran one of their tenets, as quoted in Madeleine Thien’s novel, Dogs at the Perimeter, and so families were split apart and individual members driven into rural communes where they worked the fields and perished from disease, starvation and execution. Interrogators extracted confessions from these forced labourers, detailed written accounts of their lives. If the accounts were deemed unsatisfactory they were rewritten several times. It was a highly organized attempt to reduce every person to zero...This is harrowing stuff, but before absorbing it, a reader must come to terms with certain structural and stylistic aspects of the novel. Her sentences tend to be poetically constructed, with idiosyncratic use of language...I do not mean to be picky, and there are certainly striking passages throughout the novel, but it is fair to say Thien’s language does tend to call attention to itself in ways that are not always fortunate...Narrative becomes disjointed, impressionistic, almost incoherent

Thien strong enough to let ambiguity stand....
MONTREAL-BASED Madeleine Thien's second novel is a fractured and fragmented story that inhabits both 1970s Cambodia and modern-day Montreal...Thien conveys the sense that both Janie and Hiroji might be able to cobble together enough of the pieces of themselves to stay sane.

But they might not. And Thien is a brave and strong enough writer to let that final ambiguity stand
The beauty of Madeleine Thien’s prose doesn’t reside only in its clarity and elegance. She’s a surveyor of damaged lives, and her characters no longer possess the requisite layers of skin to protect them from what they have endured, and what they remember. Thien, a deeply empathetic writer, enfolds her wounded creations in morally precise language, offering the consolation of, in effect, storytelling.


» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Madeleine Thienprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Blommesteijn, AnkieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Campos, VicenteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chicheportiche, JosetteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
amazon ca Product Description

Dogs at the Perimeter begins one winter, when Janie, a researcher in Montreal, suddenly leaves her husband and young son. She retreats to the home of her friend and mentor, the neurologist Hiroji Matsui, who has mysteriously disappeared. Their friendship, and the world Janie begins to reclaim in the wake of Hiroji's disappearance, are at the heart of Madeleine Thien’s eagerly anticipated second novel.

Thirty years earlier, in 1975, Janie is a child in Cambodia. When the Khmer Rouge take control of the country, the fallen city of Phnom Penh is emptied. Together with her parents and her younger brother, Sopham, she is forced into the countryside. In the terror that follows, when to remember one’s own past becomes a crime against the revolution, her father, a translator, is taken away, and gradually her mother weakens. Survival depends on escape, and ultimately Janie and Sopham must undertake a treacherous journey through the flooded caves at the border, across the sea, and toward a new existence.

Now, as she moves among Hiroji’s belongings, Janie salvages fragments of his past and, slowly, her own. Needing to find a truth she can be reconciled with, to make amends, she follows Hiroji’s story to Southeast Asia where she believes he has gone in search of his brother James, a Red Cross doctor who went missing in Cambodia many years earlier, and whose own story comes vividly, powerfully to life.

Dogs at the Perimeter is a beautifully realized and deeply affecting novel about the multiple lives we carry within ourselves. Spare and haunting, intimate and profound, it is an unblinking portrait of loss and recovered humanity that confirms Madeleine Thien as one of the most exciting young novelists in Canada.
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One starless night, Janies childhood was swept away by the terrors of the Khmer Rouge. Exiled from Phnom Penh, Janie and her family were forced to live out in the open, cold and under constant surveillance. Each night people were taken away. Caught up in a political storm which brought starvation to millions, tore families apart and changed the world forever, Janie lost everyone she loved. Three decades later, Janies life in Montreal is unravelling. Haunted by her past, she has abandoned her husband and son, and taken refuge in her friendship with the brilliant troubled scientist Hiroji Matsui.… (more)

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