Four Faces of Truth

Written by Harriette C. Rinaldi
Review by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi

Four fictional narrators take turns recounting the horrors wrought by the Khmer Rouge in Four Faces of Truth, Harriette Rinaldi’s noble effort to put the meteoric rise of this bloody regime into historical context. The title refers both to the different perspectives provided by the narrators – a Buddhist monk, an original party member, a traditional Khmer healer, and a Canadian archeologist – and to the ancient stone towers of Angkor Thom, topped with faces gazing out to the four points of the compass.

Rinaldi is a master of her subject, having spent three crucial years (1972-1975) of her 27 years with the CIA in Cambodia. Her stated purpose, in writing this account as a novel, is to make this largely forgotten or ignored history more accessible. Unfortunately, her first-person narrators are burdened with having to convey a huge amount of historically accurate information about real people and real events, and the result is less satisfying than if Rinaldi had chosen to use, for example, literary non-fiction to tell this story. In particular, the dialog is wooden and used primarily to make observations about culture, history, or events. None of her characters are fully realized people in their own right, which is ironic since the driving horror of the Khmer Rouge was how avidly it sought to dehumanize its subjects, stripping them of all vestiges of individuality.

The result here is that the reader is held at arm’s length from what ought to be a much more emotionally moving story. It’s a story worth telling, though; as the last narrator observes, the current Cambodian government is as corrupt as every one before it, still filled with Khmer Rouge henchmen, and bent on a campaign of actively forgetting the past.