First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers School & Library Binding – Jan 2001
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Written in the present tense, First They Killed My Father will put you right in the midst of the action--action you'll wish had never happened. It's a tough read, but definitely a worthwhile one, and the author's personality and strength shine through on every page. Covering the years from 1975 to 1979, the story moves from the deaths of multiple family members to the forced separation of the survivors, leading ultimately to the reuniting of much of the family, followed by marriages and immigrations. The brutality seems unending--beatings, starvation, attempted rape, mental cruelty--and yet the narrator (a young girl) never stops fighting for escape and survival. Sad and courageous, her life and the lives of her young siblings provide quite a powerful example of how war can so deeply affect children--especially a war in which they are trained to be an integral part of the armed forces. For anyone interested in Cambodia's recent history, this book shares a valuable personal view of events. --Jill Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In 1975, Ung, now the national spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine-Free World, was the five-year-old child of a large, affluent family living in Phnom Penh, the cosmopolitan Cambodian capital. As extraordinarily well-educated Chinese-Cambodians, with the father a government agent, her family was in great danger when the Khmer Rouge took over the country and throughout Pol Pot's barbaric regime. Her parents' strength and her father's knowledge of Khmer Rouge ideology enabled the family to survive together for a while, posing as illiterate peasants, moving first between villages, and then from one work camp to another. The father was honest with the children, explaining dangers and how to avoid them, and this, along with clear sight, intelligence and the pragmatism of a young child, helped Ung to survive the war. Her restrained, unsentimental account of the four years she spent surviving the regime before escaping with a brother to Thailand and eventually the United States is astonishing--not just because of the tragedies, but also because of the immense love for her family that Ung holds onto, no matter how she is brutalized. She describes the physical devastation she is surrounded by but always returns to her memories and hopes for those she loves. Her joyful memories of life in Phnom Penh are close even as she is being trained as a child soldier, and as, one after another, both parents and two of her six siblings are murdered in the camps. Skillfully constructed, this account also stands as an eyewitness history of the period, because as a child Ung was so aware of her surroundings, and because as an adult writer she adds details to clarify the family's moves and separations. Twenty-five years after the rise of the Khmer Rouge, this powerful account is a triumph. 8 pages b&w photos.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Ungï¿½s story chronicles her young life as a child during war, when the Khmer Rouge took over the Cambodian government and decided to create its own society. The story begins in the 1975 comfortable setting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where Ungï¿½s family lived through the turbulent evacuation from her home, separation and loss of her family, the struggle for survival and the reality of genocide.
I would highly recommend this book. It was easy to read, follow and understand. The book was not only educational, but also personal. The authentic family photographs in the middle of the book gave the me faces to go along with Ungï¿½s incredible story. This was very interesting to me. The epilogue was also worthwhile. It gave closure to the story and let the reader know what happened to the surviving family members.
There is only one thing that this book left out of its coverage, and I wonder if it would help explain the "pigmentocracy" Ung discusses at various points in her book (e.g., being spit at/generally mistreated because she has light skin). In many Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia--and to some extent Cambodia as well--ethnic Chinese are an economically dominant minority. A few ethnic Chinese are much better off than legions of ethnic Khmer (/Thai/Indonesian/Malay/etc.), and often Chinese in such countries opt out of the national culture, choosing to retain Chinese traditions. Ung herself points out that her grandmother, who lived in Cambodia, never learned Khmer. Therefore, many Khmer would have had a deep dissatisfaction with Khmer/Chinese relative positions in society, and would have taken every advantage of the downfall of any ethnic Chinese in Cambodia by mistreating them the way Ung was mistreated. I think Ung should have included a foreword about this situation so that the reader could better understand the context in which the abuse based on her skin tone occurred.
Ung's story chronicles her young life as a child during war, when the Khmer Rouge took over the Cambodian government and decided to create its own society. The story begins in the 1975 comfortable setting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where Ung's family lived through the turbulent evacuation from her home, separation and loss of her family, the struggle for survival and the reality of genocide.
I would highly recommend this book. It was easy to read, follow and understand. The book was not only educational, but also personal. The authentic family photographs in the middle of the book gave the me faces to go along with Ung's incredible story. This was very interesting to me. The epilogue was also worthwhile. It gave closure to the story and let the reader know what happened to the surviving family members.
The strength and the weakness of this book rests in its style; the use of the present tense in a child's voice can fall flat at times. Nonetheless, the same voice can leave the reader stunned and near tears several pages later. As author Loung Ung reconstructs political conversations she claims she had with her beloved father at the age of five, it strikes the reader as totally contrived--as it obviously must be. Yet as she describes a child's fear spawned by war, terror, and the nightmares that follow her at all times, it becomes all too real to bear. Loung, now a beautiful American woman, becomes a tough little Cambodian girl again at those points.
It seems almost a sacrilege to criticize any aspect of this compelling book, though, because it is such a powerful testament to the human spirit. On balance, the shortcomings that result from Loung's style are greatly outweighed by the power her narrative evokes. The guilt she suffers after she has eaten some of her family's scarce rice, for example, reveals a child's innate honesty and ability to grasp the ramifications of the simplest act. As pirates steal a jade Buddha, the last tangible link to Loung's murdered father, the reader feels the orphaned child's complete numbness.
Loung's observations about her siblings' different personalities, and how these varied traits allowed some to survive the communist slaughter, probably are the strongest observations in the book.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Having just returned from a trip to Cambodia, I downloaded this book as it was highly recommended by one of our Cambodian guides. Read morePublished 3 months ago by jenset
A painful but important read. Not without flaws but carries such an emotional punch as to nearly totally overwhelm them. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Fantastic read, so real and inspiring! and everyone is selling this book in Cambodia...they are so proud of the author. I saw it many times on my recent trip to Siem Reap. Read morePublished 9 months ago by ASC
Gripping and tragic tale of how a government can change power and sends its people into destitution making family go against family in a chess game that ultimately no one would... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Kylie Miller
After spending time in Cambodia a few years ago I had to re read this haunting story from a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide.Published 23 months ago by Ashley Pharazyn
Once you start reading you're unable to put it down. It illustrates the strength of the human spirit and it's capacity to preservere under the most brutal conditions. Read morePublished on May 28 2013 by Kendal chin-yick
This is an absolutely wonderful book. I wish that I hadn't read it yet so I could go back and read it again for the first time. Read morePublished on May 3 2004
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