When I picked up Dickens’ Hard Times, anticipating the now-familiar and deeply craved sensation of being swept off into Victorian England, I instead felt myself uncomfortably thrust into the political present, complete with industrial carbon emissions, a school system in crisis, and increasingly brutal ideological attacks on humanitarian values.
I sing every evening, because that’s what I’m paid to do, but the songs you heard were pesinhos and sapateiras for the tourists and for those Americans over there laughing at the back. They’ll get up and stagger off soon. My real songs are chamaritas, just four of them, because I don’t have a big repertoire and then I’m getting on, and I smoke a lot, my voice is hoarse.
Ours was a life of ease, with books, newspapers, a radio, and eventually a black-and-white television. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were destined to be designated— after the Khmer Rouge entered the capital on April 17 of that year—as “new people,” which meant members of the bourgeoisie, intellectuals, landowners. That is, oppressors who were to be reeducated in the countryside—or exterminated.