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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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English (43)  German (2)  Dutch (1)  All languages (46)
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I read this memoir of Loung Ung on the heels of A Fine Balance, and I must say, now I need to read something light and joyful to regain a little balance of my own. Of course, we all knew, secondhand, what was happening in Cambodia in the 1970s. We heard horrifying tales of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s killing fields. But, hearing such news from a reporter, and hearing the account of a victim, are entirely different experiences.

I marvel at the resilience of people who endure such atrocities; I wonder at the cruel nature of those who follow such a man and commit such acts. Loung Ung’s account is all the more poignant because her four-year trial began at the age of five. An age when we do not let our children cross the street on their own. Watching soldiers march her father away to his death was not even the worst thing she witnessed. The hatred she so rightfully felt toward the Khmer Rouge and the soldiers of that regime must have been beyond imagination, and must easily have influenced every day of her life since. How horrible to have so much to want revenge for and no one to hold accountable or way to render any semblance of justice.

I couldn’t help chronicling my own life alongside hers. When she was being ripped from her life in Phnom Penh and put onto a road of starvation and hard labor, I was graduating college and agonizing over making a good career choice. When she was being delivered from the refugee camps in Thailand to a future in Vermont, I was getting married and embarking on a new life of my own. Between those two events, she endured the unimaginable and I failed to fully appreciate the golden blessings of my own good fortune.

It is important that we read these kinds of accounts. They enrich our understanding of our own position in the world and they remind us why it is important that we pay attention and care about what is happening beyond our own lives and our own borders.
( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
I talked about this book with The Spouse this morning over breakfast.
From the windows of the bus, Saigon is a prosperous and bustling city. The streets are crowded with men and women in straw cone-shaped hats. The women are wearing red lipstick and colourful snug-fitting long dresses that split at the side over loose flowing pants. In the streets they talk openly to one another and laugh without covering their mouths. They do not avert their eyes nor do they glance from one side to the other. Their shoulders are not slumped and their arms not held close to their sides. Taking long, casual strides, they walk without fear as we did in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge. On every block there are stores displaying wristwatches with flowered bands, black radios blasting Vietnamese songs, televisions projecting hand puppets talking to happy young children, and red traditional dresses on headless mannequins. The streets are crowded with many more bicycles, motorcycles, and compact cars than in Phnom Penh. The food stalls and carts look bigger, cleaner and are painted in brighter colours than what we had in Cambodia. As in Phnom Penh, people sit in alleys and side streets slurping noodle soups, biting into crispy fried spring rolls and egg rolls wrapped in lettuce. I only wish that someday Phnom Penh will he as happy and rich as Saigon. (p.220-1)
What a difference perspective makes! This description of Saigon in 1979 jars with Western perceptions of it as a bleak and brutal place from which Vietnamese fled on rickety boats to freedom from the Communist regime which had prevailed in 1975 with the Fall of Saigon. But the refugee child looking at these wonders has been brutalised herself since the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh and embarked on their genocidal concept of Year Zero under Pol Pot. From the age of five, she has been beaten and starved, forced to work long hours, and deprived of everything that a childhood should mean: no friends, no education, no toys or games, and almost no family. She survives through her own iron will and her memories of her father's love and belief in her. And luck too, it seems to me, though 'luck' seems like the wrong word to use.
Loung Ung's memoir, First They Killed My Father tells the story of how her family was, along with the rest of the population of Phnom Penh, marched into the countryside and forced to work as labourers in a ruthlessly agrarian economy where everything western was believed by the Khmer Rouge regime to be corrupt and monstrous. Her father was eventually revealed to the soldiers as a former government employee and murdered, and tragically, just two weeks before the Vietnamese liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge, her mother and little sister Geak were murdered too.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/03/19/first-they-killed-my-father-by-loung-ung-bookreview/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Mar 18, 2018 |
This book is of Loung Ung's memories of the Khmer Rouge's days, which was when she was between 5 to 7 years old. I keep wondering how much she remembers of those days; I certainly don't remember much of what happened when I was of that age. But then, my experiences were mundane compared to hers, which is probably why the impressions stayed with her. As it was written from the perspective of a young girl, don't expect in-depth descriptions of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. At least Luong was honest as she described how she stole food from her family members and her guilt after that. ( )
  siok | Jan 28, 2018 |
Good read....emotional and hard to read at times, but it provides depth to generalized statements about Pol Pot and his idiocy. ( )
  untraveller | Jan 24, 2018 |
The themes prevalent in dystopian novels are brought to reality in Luong Ung's account. The society she lived in before becomes torn apart by war and violence. Ung, still a child, is forced to deal with heavy decisions. I think this book is an example of how governments are systems that can easily break down and how its citizens can turn against each other. While this book is more personal than political in nature, it presents a powerful message of how propaganda can affect people. Ung shows an incredible amount of bravery for both her experience and telling this story. ( )
  Anamie | Nov 21, 2017 |
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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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Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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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Book description
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:08 -0400)

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From a childhood survivor of the brutal Pol Pot regime comes an unforgettable narrative of tragedy and spiritual triumph.

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