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First they killed my father : a daughter of…
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First they killed my father : a daughter of Cambodia remembers (2001)

by Loung Ung

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I feel bad I didn't love this book--maybe I've been jaded by too many tales of misery and atrocity. Or maybe it's just reading this so soon after Egger's What is the What about Sudan or for that matter after Vaddey's The Shadow of the Banyan, also about this period, this book has a lot to live up to. I admit I'm someone who finds it hard to just go with the flow of the practice of memoirs written with the immediacy of a novel. I just don't find it credible--especially in this case where it's written from the point of view of a very young child narrator. Ung was only five years old when the Khmer Rouge forcibly evacuated her city of Phnom Pehn, less than eight when she was trained to be a soldier. The book is also written in the very literary fiction present tense, with events she didn't experience but could only imagine told through the gauze of italics. I wished at times she had told the story straight--it doesn't need to be tarted up. Or that like Vaddey or Eggers, she had written this as a novel, and not claimed this as memoir.

Interestingly, Ung addresses some of these issues in her afterward about writing the book. She says she takes offense at those who feel someone so young would not remember--wouldn't even feel the trauma. She wanted to give voice to a child going through such experiences. She also defended the use of present tense. She said she originally tried to write this in the past tense, but felt that "by writing in the past tense" she was protecting herself. That she needed that immediacy. But I actually think present tense--unless handled very, very skillfully--attracts attention to itself, and so can be more distancing than the past tense.

That said, this did give a day to day sense of life under the Khmer Rouge I didn't get either from the film The Killing Fields nor Veddey's novel In the Shadow of the Banyan. Part of that is because being partly Chinese, Ung experienced racism and had to hide her background, even her skin color, to avoid "ethnic cleansing"--giving her a different perspective than I've heard in other stories of this period. She spoke of the favor given to "Base People"--those native Khmer from the countryside who had been there for generations, as opposed to the "new people" driven there from the cities. And she certainly gave a vivid, harrowing account of hunger--from the physical effects to what it drives you to. Despite my criticism, this is definitely a remarkable story of survival. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | Aug 18, 2013 |
Cambodia.

Follow up with [b:Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind|126352|Lucky Child A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind (P.S.)|Loung Ung|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1171914170s/126352.jpg|1294490], which expresses the PTSD more clearly. These two can be read with Him's [b:When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge|4372|When Broken Glass Floats Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge|Chanrithy Him|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1165429618s/4372.jpg|8041] to compare two girls' experiences of the fall of Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge genocide. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
Heart wrenching story of a girl whose family was taken from their home in Phnom Penh when she was only five years old. Forced to work in rice fields and gardens for precious little food, Loung watched her family slowly starve, be sent to other camps, and die at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. The voice of her young age rang true as she mourned more the loss of her comfortable life than realizing the danger they faced.

Loung was the second youngest in her family and shared her vivid memories of her life from 1975 to 1979 until she was able to escape Cambodia to Thailand and eventually gain admission to the U.S.

That her brothers and sisters managed to eventually find each other is a testament to their strong bonds and determination to survive.

She shares pictures of her family in the middle of this book which
added to the reality of their trials. ( )
  mamzel | Sep 11, 2012 |
This review first appeared on my blog: http://www.knittingandsundries.com/2012/04/first-they-killed-my-father-by-loung....

In a unique writing voice, Loung Ung tells us her story - at age 5, suddenly transported from a middle-class lifestyle in the Cambodian city of Phnom Penh, where she lived with her family, to a life of starvation, hardship and struggle in the brutal village camps of the Khmer Rouge in 1975. In their new world, her family of nine must learn to play down their intelligence, suffer through random visits by soldiers to houses where girls are taken from their families and raped, and entire families sometimes disappear, they must also worry about anyone finding out that their father served as a police officer in the former government. This is a fascinating account of a new, harsh world as seen through the eyes of a young child, a world that no one should have to live in. Flashes of hope and small triumphs (finding a way to get extra food, a visit from one of the siblings), become large in a world where hope and individuality are quashed.I would totally recommend this title to anyone interested in the history of Cambodia as seen through the eyes of someone who lived through this regime. BOOK RATING: 4 out of 5 stars ( )
  jewelknits | Aug 16, 2012 |
A shattering read of one of the worst genocide's in history. You will be left aghast and in awe of the author's deep love for her family and country. ( )
  bookalover89 | Jun 28, 2012 |
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Epigraph
Fronm 1975-1979-through execution, starvation, disease, and forced labor-the Khmer Rouge systematically killed an estimated two million Cambodians, almost a fourth of the country's population. This is a story of survival: my own story mirrors that of millions of Cambodians. If you had been living in Cambodia during this period, this would be your story too.
Dedication
In memory of the two million people who perished under the Khmer Rouge regime. This book is dedicated to my father, Ung; Seng Im, who always believed in me; my mother, Ung; Ay Choungm who always loved me. To my sisters Keav, Chou, and Geak because sisters are forever; my brother Kim, who taught me about courage; my brother Khouy, for contributing more than one hundred pages of our family history and details of our lives under the Khmer Rouge, many of which I incorporated into this book; to my brother Meng and sister-in-law Eang Muy Tan, who raised me (quite well) in America.
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Phnom Penh City erwacht früh, um die kühle Morgenbrise zu nutzen, bevor die Sonne durch den Dunst bricht und die Hitze in das Land einfällt.
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Phnom Penh city wakes early to take advantage of the cool morning breeze before the sun breaks through the haze and invades the country with sweltering heat.
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One of seven children of a high-ranking government official, Loung Ung lived a privileged life in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh until the age of five. Then, in April 1975, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge army stormed into the city, forcing Ung's family to flee and, eventually, to disperse. Loung was trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans, her siblings were sent to labor camps, and those who survived the horrors would not be reunited until the Khmer Rouge was destroyed. Harrowing, yet hopeful, Loung's powerful story is an unforgettable account of a family shaken and shattered, yet miraculously sustained by courage and llove in the face of unspeakable brutality.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060856262, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:06 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Loung Ung, one of seven children of a high-ranking government official in Phnom Penh, tells of her experiences after her family was forced to flee from Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge army, discussing her training as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans, and telling of how her surviving siblings were eventually reunited.… (more)

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