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First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (P.S.) Paperback – April 4, 2006
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From the Back Cover
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.
About the Author
Loung Ung was the National Spokesperson for the “Campaign for a Landmine Free World,” a program of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for co-founding the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Ung lectures extensively, appears regularly in the media, and has made more than thirty trips back to Cambodia. She is also the author of Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind and LuLu in the Sky.
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The movie is ok. But this book is fantastic. The author writes in the present tense with the mind of a little girl. She describes events, but more deeply she describes her reaction to the events. First she describes her life and family. She really had tremendous affection for her father, also for her mother and siblings, but this was daddy's little girl. During the march she describes her confusion, her exhaustion, her fear, the smell of a rotting human corpse. During the regime she describes the guilt of stealing a handful of rice from her family, her grief at the death of her father and other family members, and the hatred for her oppressors that grew over time.
But one thing she describes over and over again is the hunger. She goes into great detail describing what it's like to starve to the brink of death. The hunger turning to pain spreading all over her body. The dreams she has about food and the guilt she feels upon awakening and realizing that, in the dream, she didn't share the food with her family.
This girl saw a lot, armed invasion by the Khmer Rouge and later by the Vietnamese, suffering, her best friend died from a shrapnel wound while sitting right next to her, hearing the screams of people who couldn't get out of a burning structure, dead bodies, she witnessed a mob kill a man; she was a boat-person. Remember the boat people from the 70s? She was one of them, and they were robbed by pirates. She was the intended victim of sexual assault (she's tough; I would not recommend messing with her).
There isn't a whole lot of politics in the book or documentation of historical events. She's just a kid. She doesn't know what communism is or what is causing her plight.
All in all, and extremely well written book about an intense period of history.
As much as I appreciated the writing, I found the pacing towards the beginning a slog. Others have said it's too sad - I present the idea that the book's problem is that it's *constantly* sad. There's nothing wrong with heavy source material, but EL&IC never lets up. As I reader, I got desensitized in about three pages and wasn't brought back...ever. Not everyone in the universe is living a sad and depressing life, but you wouldn't know it in this book's NYC. EL&IC tried the "dark and gritty" approach, and it didn't suck, but it had a lot of trouble dragging me down as the pages went by. A drop into sorrow only works if you're not already there.
I suppose my only hope or request would be for a follow-up memoir to describe how she acclimated to life in the United States, to talk about her return to Cambodia and her experiences reuniting with her surviving family members, and of her efforts to eradicate landmines around the world.
Although this book may give the impression of a very limited insight the Cambodian genocide as it was written in a child’s perspective, this book definitely did not live up to that impression. It was able to make me question, think critically and feel several different emotions within just a couple hundred pages.
I loved and still love this book so much that I recommended it to practically everyone I know. It supports my stance on war and is one of the most insightful books I’ve read up to date. Loved it and would most likely read it again.
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Then the 9/11 piece. I guess a great many people remember 9/11...but some of us *remember* 9/11.Read more