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Encounters on the Front Line

Encounters on the Front Line

4.83 out of 5 based on 6 customer ratings
(6 customer reviews)

$19.95 $13.97


by Elaine Harvey

In 1980 Elaine Harvey worked for the International Red Cross in the Cambodian refugee camps immediately after the fall of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. It was a time when sorrow fell like monsoon rain. “I was not a victim of war, poverty, or starvation, but I was a witness. As a witness, I came to understand that front lines take a toll in our lives. They test how far we will go, how much we will give and how deep we will travel.”

In 2007 and 2009 she returned to Cambodia, volunteering in a rural orphanage and a city hospice. She met the people on the front lines – the human rights activists, the caregivers, and those who needed care, inspiring her to explore the challenges of service. Her journey was a quest of the heart to meet the new face of Cambodia and honour the one she left behind.

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Book Information

Book Information

Edition Paperback
ISBN 978-1-927559-66-6
Book Size 5.5X8.5
Number of pages 318
Published Date 04-2015

Reviews (6)

6 reviews for Encounters on the Front Line

  1. 5 out of 5


    The year is 1980. Years of civil war, the brutal regime of Pol Pot, the Vietnamese occupation, and starvation have claimed the lives of 2 million Khmer people – one of the greatest human tragedies of our time. Author Elaine Harvey’s book, Encounters on the front line Cambodia: A Memoir, is a historically accurate, thought provoking account of her front line experience as a young nurse working with the Canadian Red Cross in the Cambodian refugee camps.
    Harvey holds nothing back. Her writing chronicles the formidable challenges of working in primitive conditions, lacking sanitation and basic supplies, often in life-threatening circumstances. Her feelings and reactions to witnessing such horrible suffering and despair is a testament to her compassion and dedication. Through the tragedy, Harvey sees glimmers of hope in the resilience of the Khmer people that she met and worked with. They truly give testament to the triumph of the human spirit.
    Thirty years later, Harvey returns to Cambodia. The country is still healing from the wounds of the past but dealing with present day enemies – poverty and Aids. She takes us inside an orphanage and a hospice and introduces some amazing young people. You won’t want to put this book down – and it’s not one that you will soon forget.

    – John R. Patterson, Amazon Reviewer

  2. 5 out of 5


    Ernest Hemingway’s great short story, “In Another Country,” speaks in a very understated manner of the horrors of war, from the setting of a hospital near the front. There is a great deal of Hemingway’s style in this same setting, in “Encounters on the Front Line: a Cambodia Memoir,” as Elaine Harvey deftly and kindly understates much of what she saw in Cambodia, as she tended to the sick and injured both during the terrible border wars there at the time of the fall of Pol Pot and later when she returns to recapture what it was that compelled her to originally go to this country and its beautiful people. We are spared the details but her gentle prose evokes our sympathy and our imagination.

    But perhaps the more soaring moments are when her personal voice breaks through and we hear the strains of her heart as she begins to let us know what might be the source of her sympathy and her compulsion to help and to heal. Perhaps there is something in her motivation that may be a sense of duty or of work more than a desire to change the world. It is touching in its simplicity and elegance.

    As we begin to get a feel for this work, this woman and this place, it is the understated nature of her story that begins to open the larger, very human and humane, questions. Why do she and the best friend nurse companion of her first trip not remain in touch once they return to Canada? And, why upon her return do the successive healing missions she voluntarily undertakes, in order to establish a more meaningful connection, come to rather abrupt ends. What makes her attracted to the stoically private Italian doctor?

    – Gerald Weaver, Amazon Reviewer

  3. 5 out of 5


    Wow!!! I have just finished Encounters On The Front Line and it is a captivating piece. The story is divided into three sections and I will comment on each.
    Book I is powerful in all respects—emotion and language, societal and personal, poetic yet factual—the suffering, the evil, the efforts at counter balance. It is at once, depressing and uplifting. People have become aware of the Pol Pot regime’s butchery in Cambodia and many have heard of the Killing Fields, but do people understand the extent of the danger and the sorrow which followed?
    In Book II the pace changes, which is a good thing as the first part keeps the reader on the edge of a knife. It is about the writer’s going back. Life unfolded as it normally does and there was a time between the first and second encounter. Events that truly mark us require assimilation and this, generally, is not an overnight process. It shows us the war might seemingly be won, but things are far from stable, that there remains a surfeit of poverty and inadequate health care and politicians bereft of compassion. The Front Line has simply shifted. There are more encounters. There is so much healing required.
    Book III is about another effort. While maintaining its focus on need and those who strive to meet these requirements in the most tenuous of circumstances, it also dangles the possibility that spiritual gains can be made even in such a difficult environment—it’s conclusion being the pebble in the pond and the ripple effect.
    Encounters On The Front Line is important. Words are carefully chosen, poetic insights (which are astoundingly beautiful) demand introspection. Many sentences which tie together sentiment are poignant. The contents of Encounters On The Front Line will not soon leave me.

    – Rkan, Amazon Reviewer

  4. 4 out of 5


    When I began reading Elaine Harvey’s memoir about her time in Cambodia working for the International Red Cross, I couldn’t help but think about what I was doing in 1980. I was joining other feminists to volunteer at a rape crisis center in my own city. We called it “working on the front line,” however, since reading Harvey’s memoir, I see that the “front line” she chose was a very dangerous place.

    Harvey, a nurse, headed for a Cambodian refugee camp immediately following the fall of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in 1980. Nursing brings her “close to the bone,” Harvey writes, even in Canada where she has worked with poverty, trauma, and suffering.

    Travel writing is about both an exterior and an interior journey and Harvey has reflected on her time in Cambodia, realizing its impact on her life for years to come. She has composed poems from her memories which offer a gentle respite in the midst of “high alert.”

    Written in the present tense, each chapter is engaging and offers an immediacy to events. The tension of the situation is palpable. Harvey was at a camp called Mak Moun 3 with 60,000 refugees in a field where the hospital, made of bamboo and thatch, had no running water or electricity.

    The border remained a battleground among four warring factions and Harvey was in charge of the ER, on Team A by choice: “Willing to go to the border in dangerous situations.”

    One of the people Harvey works with is Sam Ath to whom she dedicates her book. He was a refugee without any formal healthcare training. Other relationships she forms are also forever etched on her heart.

    Why she travelled to Cambodia for a six-month mission in 1980 was a question that took Harvey back nearly three decades later. She found that while it had been a disturbing time, it had also been a time of inspiration and awe. Faced with the aftermath of “torture and terror, I met a people as gracious as the lotus blooming in muddy water,” Harvey writes.

    Book Two, “Pilgrimage,” takes place between 2007 and 2008. Harvey describes her travel back as “a quest of the heart” to meet “the new face of Cambodia and honour the one that I left behind.” She volunteers in an orphanage and an AIDS hospice. As she had started to learn Healing Touch, an energy-based therapy, she adapts her practice to Cambodia.

    There would have been a bond created among the members of the community she was part of in 1980 that cannot be replicated. She feels melancholy remembering the close friendships she made 27 years earlier.

    Book Three, entitled a Greater Mystery,” takes place in 2009 when Harvey returns again to Cambodia.

    Sharing her story, she lets North Americans know of the horrors that continue to have their effects on the people of Cambodia, emotionally and physically.

    In her final reflections, Harvey writes that “Cambodia was the messenger and the message. . . . Cambodia was the ox cart coming down the muddy path, clickety clack, clickety clack, the ancient wooden wheels turning round and round on our way home. Timeless, we knew each other.”

    There is no definitive answer to Harvey’s question when travelling back to Cambodia and how could there be? She had an experience that will always be a part of her “as hard as shrapnel embedded in flesh, as soft as the fragrance of jasmine, and as perplexing as the beguiling smile of its people, the Khmer.”

    As an introduction to Book Two of Encounters, Harvey quotes Rainer Maria Rilke about having the “patience with everything unresolved in your heart.” Another Rilke quote comes to mind too: “So we live, forever saying farewell.” (Duino Elegies)

    – Story Circle Book Reviews

  5. 5 out of 5


    This book allows you to get inside the news story into the heart of a humanitarian crisis. We hear of so many humanitarian crises like in Syria where refugees are trapped in warzones or fleeing conflict. It is wonderful to see the perspective of a front line nurse with her passionate, eloquent and insightful account of this time and place in history. It is well worth reading. I strongly recommend it.

    – Paul Hundal, Goodreads Reviewer

  6. 5 out of 5


    This book offers a first-hand account of Harvey’s experience with the Canadian Red Cross after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1980. She worked in refuge camps with 100,000 displaced and traumatized people. You learn about the extreme risks and rewards of this work, and what it’s like to be in war-torn and post-war Cambodia. There are tragic tales of loss and grief as well as touching accounts of healing, friendship and bonding. Harvey also profiles other inspiring people who have found different, meaningful ways to provide relief to Cambodians. I found this book riveting, enlightening, and brimming with perspective on what life is like in the trenches, literally. Harvey writes with great honesty, passion and clarity. She is a brave, compassionate soul.

    – Woody, Goodreads Reviewer

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