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Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind (P.S.) Paperback – April 11, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In her second memoir, Ung picks up where her first, the National Book Award–winning First They Killed My Father, left off, with the author escaping a devastated Cambodia in 1980 at age 10 and flying to her new home in Vermont. Though she embraces her American life—which carries advantages ranging from having a closet of her own to getting a formal education and enjoying The Brady Bunch—she can never truly leave her Cambodian life behind. She and her eldest brother, with whom she escaped, left behind their three other siblings. This book is alternately heart-wrenching and heartwarming, as it follows the parallel lives of Loung Ung and her closest sister, Chou, during the 15 years it took for them to reunite. Loung effectively juxtaposes chapters about herself and her sister to show their different worlds: while the author's meals in America are initially paid for with food stamps, Chou worries about whether she'll be able to scrounge enough rice; Loung is haunted by flashbacks, but Chou is still dodging the Khmer Rouge; and while Loung's biggest concern is fitting in at school, Chou struggles daily to stay alive. Loung's first-person chapters are the strongest, replete with detailed memories as a child who knows she is the lucky one and can't shake the guilt or horror. "For no matter how seemingly great my life is in America... it will not be fulfilling if I live it alone.... [L]iving life to the fullest involves living it with your family."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* Ung's autobiographical First They Killed My Father, 2000) chronicled her harrowing childhood under Pol Pot's genocidal regime, which claimed the lives of her mother, father, and two sisters. In an essential companion timed for release on the thirtieth anniversary of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge takeover, Ung unflinchingly continues her memoir with her arrival in Vermont alongside her sister-in-law and brother, who, able to "borrow enough gold to take only one of his siblings with him," chose his tough youngest sister as the "lucky child." Ung agonized over everyone she left behind, but especially regretted her 15-year separation from her last surviving sister, Chou. Here she tells their parallel life stories, effectively interleaving her own narrative of an '80s, valley-girl adolescence (laced with posttraumatic episodes) with chapters about Chou's growth to adulthood amid threats of land mines and Khmer Rouge raids. By daringly (and remarkably successfully) assuming her sister's point of view, Ung brings third- and first-world disparities into discomfiting focus and gracefully dramatizes the metaphorical joining together of her haunted past with her current identity as a privileged Cambodian American. When the narratives fuse at the sisters' long-awaited reunion, their clasping of hands throws wide the floodgates to tamped-down memories--a cathartic release that readers will tearfully, gratefully share. Jennifer Mattson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This book has been written by a more mature and settled Loung, and it shows. There's more reflection and a lot more humanity, bringing depth to the portraits of family members who were shown more one-dimensionally in the first book: an inevitable byproduct of the book being told straight from a child's point of view, and that of a child focused intensely on survival. I especially liked in this book how the "scary" brother Khouy was given added nuances of character; the moment when he said, hearing of his small sister's death, that "she was so small" brought a lump to my throat. The characters of the brothers and sisters are fleshed out here in a way that's really delightful and much more interesting to read than in the previous book.
What's best about this, I think, is how we're given a look at the love between the siblings and the incredibly resilience of the family members who stay in Cambodia. It's also a good portrait of how some people in Cambodia are moving on with their lives: in our minds, so much of Cambodia remains the war and the killing fields. We need to know that people are surviving and living their lives despite the shadows of this past: it makes the nation real to us instead of a symbol.
A gripping story that kept me up too late to read through it in one sitting. Some reviewers have said the sections on Chou were not as good as those on Loung, but I didn't find that at all -- I could actually have read a lot more from her point of view.
One quibble: the book needed slightly better proof-reading. There were a few spelling mistakes that spell-check missed, and an astounding miss on a picture caption, where one of the Angkor Wat temples was labelled "Wat BYRON" instead of "Wat Bayon." Otherwise, an excellent read.
Loung has lost touch with her closest sister in Cambodia, Chou, who married young and had children and has struggled to find prosperity and happiness in the deeply damaged country. Loung has always felt somewhat guilty about the fact that she was chosen to accompany her eldest brother to the refugee camp in Thailand where they were later sponsored for immigration to a small town in Vermont. Since Loung was the youngest surviving sibling, the family felt that she would have the best chance of getting an education and adapting to life in America. However, Loung's brother and his wife cling to Cambodian traditions and expect Loung to do so also. She chafes at their restrictions, hides the details of her background from her best friend in the new high school, and even changes her name to an American name - all so that she can blend in and find acceptance in her new country.
Loung's brother Meng, had visited the family in Cambodia several times and sent them money which helped raise them from abject poverty. At first, Loung wasn't interested in returning to Cambodia, but eventually, Loung's brother organized a trip for them to return to a family reunion. Though their lives are very different by then, Loung reunites with her closest sister Chou. With all the siblings together for the first time in 18 years, the family honors their dead ancestors, while striving to put the past behind them.
In her matter of fact and clear writing style, Loung allows to understand so much of Cambodia history and culture. Her ability to put the grim occurrences of the genocide in perspective and to find a way to move on and thrive is commendable. I look forward to reading her next book which starts when she's in college.