Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea

A Graphic Memoir of Modern Slavery

by Vannak Anan Prum

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The graphic memoir of a Cambodian man held hostage for years on a fishing vessel, The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is the true and overlooked story of human trafficking.

Too poor to pay his pregnant wife’s hospital bill, Prum Vannak left his Cambodian village to seek work in Thailand. Men who appeared to be employers on a fishing vessel promised to return him home after a few months at sea, but instead Vannak was held hostage on the vessel for four years of hard labor. Amid violence and cruelty, including frequent beheadings, Vannak survived in large part by honing his ability to tattoo his shipmates—a skill he possessed despite never having been trained in art or having access to art supplies while growing up. 

To escape, Vannak and a friend jumped into the water and, hugging empty fish-sauce containers. At the harbor, they were taken into a police station . . . then sold by their rescuers to work on a plantation. Vannak was kept as a laborer for more than a year before an NGO could secure his return to Cambodia. After five years away, Vannak was finally reunited with his family. 

Vannak documented his ordeal in raw, colorful, detailed illustrations, first created because he believed that without them no one would believe his story. Indeed, very little is known about what happens to the men and boys who end up working on fishing boats in Asia, and these images are some of the first records. In regional Cambodia, many families still wait for men who have disappeared across the Thai border and out to sea. The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a testament to the lives of these many fishermen trapped on boats in the Indian Ocean.

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Vannak Anan Prum is a Cambodian survivor of human trafficking. While looking for work on the Thai border, he was detained as a slave on a fishing boat for four years until he escaped by literally jumping ship. His rescuers on the Malaysian coast sold him to a plantation, where he labored for another year before an NGO helped him return to his family. Upon his return, he drew pictures of what he remembered in order to prove and explain his whereabouts during his hellish years as a modern-day slave. Though he never had any formal education or training in art, Vannak had long loved drawing—first in the dirt, then on wooden boards with dried clay, until one day in his youth when a Vietnamese soldier gave him paper and pencils.