First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers
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 love in the face of unspeakable brutality.(from Amazon.com)
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Review of First They Killed My Father
Loung Ung tells the heart-wrenching story of how the Khmer Rouge one day turned her privileged life upside down as they force them to leave their home in the city of Phnom Penh and wander from village to village. The Khmer Rouge eventually kill her father and mother and her sister dies from disease. She feels so guilty taking a handful of rice in the middle of the night because she is so hungry as she sees it as stealing from her family. She goes through training as a orphan soldier and then almost gets raped by a Youn soldier. She finally reunites with her two brothers and gets to leave the country and go to the United States and write her story.
It is a great true story that would resonate with a lot of students since it is written from the perspective of a little girl. She is very honest about what is happening around her. I have heard from other teachers that they assign this book as the summer reading for AP World History.
I would highly recommend it since it is very well written and gives a lot of insights as to what individuals went through during the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. It is much easier to understand the situation through personal stories than it is through mere death figures.
It makes me want to interact with the native more and ask about their experiences and ask about how things are now in the present.
I enjoyed the complex relationships with her siblings that she describes well especially with her sisters. As someone who also has a sister, it was touching to hear her be frank and honest about the tender moments she shares with each one.
Review of "First They Killed My Father"
First They Killed My Father is the story of Loung Ung's childhood in Cambodia under the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge. The story is narrated by Ung, a child living with her family in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. Ung's family is forced out of their home in Phnom Penh and into a series of hellish work camps throughout the Cambodian country side. Given meager rations, forced to work continuously and subject to seemingly random executions, Ung’s family quickly deteriorates.
This is a compelling book. The short chapter lengths and the writing style, intended to be from the perspective of a young girl, also make it easily accessible for middle and high school students. I plan on using at least one chapter in class to give my students an understanding of how US actions during and after the Vietnam War had widespread, indirect consequences. Two passages are especially notable - "Pa: December 1976" (pg. 102-108), describing Ung’s father's execution after being 'found out' by the Khmer Rouge and "Leaving Home: May 1977" (pg. 120-128), describing the family's decision to split up after a series of full-family executions.
Despite being a great read, keep in mind that some editing of First the Killed My Father might be required for younger readers (the narrator talks frequently and graphically about death). Additionally, background explanation about the Khamer Rouge and Cambodian history in the 1970s will be necessary for students to fully appreciate the story.