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First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (P.S.) Paperback – April 4, 2006

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Editorial Reviews Review

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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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (April 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060856262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060856267
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (379 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Author, lecturer, and activist, Loung Ung has dedicated much of her life to promoting equality and human rights in her native land and worldwide. In recognition of her work, The World Economic Forum selected Loung as one of the "100 Global Youth Leaders of Tomorrow."

Loung's memoir, First They Killed My Father: a Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (HarperCollins 2000)is a national bestseller and recipient of the 2001 Asian/Pacific American Librarians' Association award for "Excellence in Adult Non-fiction Literature", and has been published in Khmer, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and other languages. She has appeared widely on news programs and other media. She is also the author of Lucky Child and Lulu in the Sky, both published by HarperCollins. she is now working on a novel.

Today, Loung has made over 30 trips back to Cambodia. When not working and traveling, she enjoys eating fried crickets and riding her tandem bike with her husband Mark. Together, they are partners/owners of a trio of restaurants and microbrewery--the Belgian Bier Markt, Bar Cento, and Market Garden Brewery--in Cleveland, Ohio.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Burton on April 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Loung Ung's book FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER is an intimate, personal account of life under Cambodia's genocidal Khmer Rouge. Its emotion and urgency give the reader a sense of what it was like to be there -- to suffer as Ung and her family suffered and to see the horrors that they saw. The book thus provides a crucial supplement to drier, more academic accounts of the Khmer Rouge regime, which typically are written at a distance in order to preserve an aura of objectivity. Ung is not in the business of providing a dry, historical account of what happened to her country; rather, her purpose is to share the raw, often brutal, story of what happened to her.
Ung's book provides a human framework for coming to terms with the madness of the Khmer Rouge. Instead of remaining decontextualized victims -- remarkable only for their suffering and identical to the victims of countless other tragedies -- Ung's family and the people she meets gain the dignity of personal qualities and individuality. Through the eyes of the child that she was at the time, Ung forces us to see her family and acquaintances not just as statistics or haunted faces glimpsed on television, but as people with lives that began before the tragic period of the book and that, at least in a few cases, continued after the events described in the book were over.
FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER is part confession, part therapy and part urgent mission to share a story with the world. It is often painful to read but it is profoundly rewarding. Ung's story is heartbreaking but her own persistence, fortitude, and ultimate triumph inspire. Furthermore, in an age where tragedy and genocide have seemingly become commonplace, Ung's ability to heal after such a harrowing childhood is encouraging evidence that others, recovering from tragedies elsewhere, can do the same.
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70 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Lyle F. McIntosh on January 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Having traveled extensively in Asia and keenly recalling the tragedy of Cambodia from media accounts and as depicted in the movie "The Killing Fields," I was attracted immediately to this subject matter. However, even then I was unprepared for the enormous impact this book would have on me.
Anyone with respect for human dignity will surely be affected by this insider chonicle of the unspeakable atrocities committed against average, ordinary, and innocent Cambodian families and individuals. And yet, despite the enormity of the physical and psychological terrors, in the end, the triumph of a child and her siblings bravery, perseverance, and spirit leads to a story of ultimate survival and confirmation of light over darkness.
This is an important book, not only in detailing the author's incredible individual ordeal, but also reminding us of the terrible consequences of a fanatical totalitarian fringe gaining power in any society.
And finally this is a tough story, but also one to celebrate and learn from. It should be recommended reading in Universities around the world in the hope that the architects of tomorrow's societies be well aware of the dangers of fanatical extremism.
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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful By P. Elkin on April 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I've had a low-level interest in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge since I saw "The Killing Fields" a few years ago. I've read a few things and was basically familiar with the history. However, I had no real appreciation for the brutality the Cambodian people endured for those 4 years until I read this book.
As somebody stated in an earlier review, I wondered (at first) how a 5 year old child could remember all of this. As I got further into the story, it occurred to me that no one could ever forget this sort of thing. In addition, Ung gives one of her older brothers credit for filling in some gaps. This book is VERY believable.
Ung writes about horrific events in a matter-of-fact style. She occaisionaly changes the point of view of the narration, which can be a bit confusing. But, overall, it's easy to follow the story. It's even easier to become drawn in to the story.
I put another book aside to read this. I'm glad I did.
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55 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Allison on February 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Luong Ung's story held my attention completely. I have many friends who survived the killing fields of Pol Pot and their stories match hers in many ways. Seeing the author interviewed on television recently caused me to seek out this book.
I was particularly focused on certain points of her story: how wedges of class envy and racial differences were driven between people to help fuel the killing, how the children endured forced political indoctrination, the detailed, vivid description of starvation from a child's point of view, and the spirit to survive often being fueled by hate. Loung used her hate for Pol Pot and what had been done to her family as a source of strength to survive, but the hate she developed never extinguished her love for her family.
As Americans, do we really think we are immune from having a killing field happen here in America? We need to read this story and learn from it. Human history is filled with holocausts and will continue to be filled with holocausts because that is as much part of human nature as it is human nature to forget the lessons offered to us by these survivors. Loung Ung presented the crucible of human frailties for us to examine and for her to find a way to heal herself of some of the pain of her losses. I am indebted to her for her courage and care to share this with me.
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