It took the San Antonio resident thirty years to write the memoir Golden Bones—a reasonable time, perhaps, to assess a life that includes an escape from Cambodia’s killing fields and stints as both a New York City cabbie and a deputy assistant secretary of state under George H. W. Bush.

Describe the horrors that took place in Cambodia in the seventies.

The Vietnam War spilled over into neutral Cambodia. The 1973 Paris Peace Accords ended the war, but in 1975 the Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot, became unexpectedly victorious and killed anybody they considered an enemy of their “revolution.” About two million people died of summary executions, exhaustion, and starvation.

How did you escape?

I was working for [the relief agency] CARE and was to be airlifted out by the U.S. Embassy. I missed the last helicopter by thirty minutes. I survived one year of forced labor, and in February 1976 I jumped off a logging truck and made a three-day trek to Thailand. That June I arrived in Wallingford, Connecticut, with $2 in my pocket.

What does “golden bones” mean?

Cambodians refer to somebody who is blessed and lucky as a person “of golden bones.” When people from my father’s village learned that I had not only survived the genocide but had gone to America and was working for the president, they told me that I was truly a man of golden bones! HarperCollins, $25.95 (Read the full interview.)