First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

4.6 120
by Loung Ung
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times
[Ung] tells her stories straightforwardly, vividly, and without any strenuous effort to explicate their importance, allowing the stories themselves to create their own impact.
San Francisco Chronicle
A riveting memoir...an important, moving work that those who have suffered cannot afford to forget and those who have been spared cannot afford to ignore.
Library Journal
In this "Age of Holocaust," Ung's memoir of her childhood in Pol Pot's Cambodia offers a haunting parallel to the writings of Anne Frank in the Europe of Adolf Hitler. A precocious, sparkling youngster, Ung was driven from Phnom Penh in April 1975 to relatives in the countryside, then to Khmer Rouge work camps. Here she recalls her fear, hunger, emotional pain, and loneliness as her parents and a sister were murdered and another sister died from disease. By the 1979 freeing of Cambodia by Vietnamese troops, she was a hardened, vengeful nine year old. Although written nearly 20 years later, this painful narrative retains an undeniable sense of immediacy. The childlike memories are adroitly placed in a greater context through older family members' descriptions of the political and social milieu. Recommended for public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/99.]--John F. Riddick, Central Michigan Univ. Lib., Mt. Pleasant Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
YA-Ung was a headstrong, clever child who was a delight to her father, a high-ranking government official in Phnom Penh. She was only five when the Khmer Rouge stormed the city and her family was forced to flee. They sought refuge in various camps, hiding their wealth and education, always on the move and ever fearful of being betrayed. After 20 months, Ung's father was taken away, never to be seen again. Her story of starvation, forced labor, beatings, attempted rape, separations, and the deaths of her family members is one of horror and brutality. The first-person account of Cambodia under the reign of Pol Pot will be read not only for research papers but also as a tribute to a human spirit that never gave up. YAs will applaud Ung's courage and strength.-Katherine Fitch, Rachel Carson Middle School, Fairfax, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Bernstein
During the three years that the Khmer Rouge tried to create an agrarian utopia in Cambodia, two million people are believed to have died from execution, starvation and disease. Two million -- a horrifying number, but so large as to seem almost an abstraction, like the distance to the nearest star. The number gains far greater psychological force with [this] new memoirs, whose author, a young girl in the Cambodia of the time, describes the terror and losses she suffered during the Khmer Rouge revolution in wrenchingly particular terms... [Ung] tells her stories straightforwardly, vividly, and without any strenuous effort to explicate their importance, allowing the stories themselves to create their own impact.
The New York Times
From the Publisher
"Ung's memoir should serve as a reminder that some history is best not left just to historians but to those left standing when the terror ends." —Booklist Starred Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062036544
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/12/2010
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
42,904
Lexile:
920L (what's this?)
File size:
5 MB

Read an Excerpt

phnom penh

April 1975

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. Already at 6 A.M. people in Phnom Penh are rushing and bumping into each other on dusty, narrow side streets. Waiters and waitresses in black-and-white uniforms swing open shop doors as the aroma of noodle soup greets waiting customers. Street vendors push food carts piled with steamed dumplings, smoked beef teriyaki sticks, and roasted peanuts along the sidewalks and begin to set up for another day of business. Children in colorful T-shirts and shorts kick soccer balls on sidewalks with their bare feet, ignoring the grunts and screams of the food cart owners. The wide boulevards sing with the buzz of motorcycle engines, squeaky bicycles, and, for those wealthy enough to afford them, small cars. By midday, as temperatures climb to over a hundred degrees, the streets grow quiet again. People rush home to seek relief from the heat, have lunch, take cold showers, and nap before returning to work at 2 P.M.

My family lives on a third-floor apartment in the middle of Phnom Penh, so I am used to the traffic and the noise. We don't have traffic lights on our streets; instead, policemen stand on raised metal boxes, in the middle of the intersections directing traffic. Yet the city always seems to be one big traffic jam. My favorite way to get around with Ma is the cyclo because the driver can maneuver it in the heaviest traffic. A cyclo resembles a big wheelchair attached to the front of a bicycle. You just take a seat and pay the driver to wheel you around whereveryou want to go. Even though we own two cars and a truck, when Ma takes me to the market we often go in a cyclo because we get to our destination faster. Sitting on her lap I bounce and laugh as the driver pedals through the congested city streets.

This morning, I am stuck at a noodle shop a block from our apartment in this big chair. I'd much rather be playing hopscotch with my friends. Big chairs always make me want to jump on them. I hate the way my feet just hang in the air and dangle. Today, Ma has already warned me twice not to climb and stand on the chair. I settle for simply swinging my legs back and forth beneath the table.

Ma and Pa enjoy taking us to a noodle shop in the morning before Pa goes off to work. As usual, the place is filled with people having breakfast. The clang and clatter of spoons against the bottom of bowls, the slurping of hot tea and soup, the smell of garlic, cilantro, ginger, and beef broth in the air make my stomach rumble with hunger. Across from us, a man uses chopsticks to shovel noodles into his mouth. Next to him, a girl dips a piece of chicken into a small saucer of hoisin sauce while her mother cleans her teeth with a toothpick. Noodle soup is a traditional breakfast for Cambodians and Chinese. We usually have this, or for a special treat, French bread with iced coffee.

"Sit still," Ma says as she reaches down to stop my leg midswing, but I end up kicking her hand. Ma gives me a stern look and a swift slap on my leg.

"Don't you ever sit still? You are five years old. You are the most troublesome child. Why can't you be like your sisters? How Will you ever grow up to be a proper young lady?" Ma sighs. Of course I have heard all this before.

It must be hard for her to have a daughter who does not act like a girl, to be so beautiful and have a daughter like me. Among her women friends, Ma is admired for her height, slender build, and porcelain white skin. I often overhear them talking about her beautiful face when they think she cannot hear. Because I'm a child, they feel free to say whatever they want in front of me, believing I cannot understand. So while they're ignoring me, they comment on her perfectly arched eyebrows; almond-shaped eyes; tall, straight Western nose; and oval face. At 5'6", Ma is an amazon among Cambodian women. Ma says she's so tall because she's all Chinese. She says that some day my Chinese side will also make me tall. I hope so, because now when I stand I'm only as tall as Ma's hips.

"Princess Monineath of Cambodia, now she is famous for being proper," Ma continues. "It is said that she walks so quietly that no one ever hears her approaching. She smiles without ever showing her teeth. She talks to men without looking directly in their eyes. What a gracious lady she is." Ma looks at me and shakes her head.

"Hmm..." is my reply, taking a loud swig of Coca-Cola from the small bottle.

Ma says I stomp around like a cow dying of thirst. She's tried many times to teach me the proper way for a young lady to walk. First, you connect your heel to the ground, then roll the ball of your feet on the earth while your toes curl up painfully. Finally you end up with your toes gently pushing you off the ground. All this is supposed to be done gracefully, naturally, and quietly. It all sounds too complicated and painful to me. Besides, I am happy stomping around.

"The kind of trouble she gets into, while just the other day she-" Ma continues to Pa. but is interrupted when our waitress arrives with our soup.

"Phnom Penh special noodles with chicken for you and a glass of hot water," says the waitress as she puts the steaming bowl of translucent potato noodles swimming in clear broth before Ma.

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What People are saying about this

Patrick Leahy
In this gripping narrative, Loung Ung describes the unfathomable evil that engulfed Cambodia during her childhood, the courage that enabled her to survive, and the determination that has made her an eloquent voice for peace and justice in Cambodia. It is a tour-de-force that strengthened our resolve to prevent and punish crimes against humanity.
— U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, Congressional Leader on Human Rights and a Global Ban on Land Mines
Dith Tran
Dith Tran, whose work and life is portrayed in the award winning movie, The Killing Fields
Loung has written an eloquent and powerful narrative as a young witness to the Khmer Rouge atrocities. This is an important story that will have a dramatic impact on today's readers and inform generations to come.
Queen Noor
This is a story of triumph of a child's interminable spirit over the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge over a culture where children are trained to become killing machines. Loung's subsequent campaign against land mines is a result of witnessing first hand how her famished neighbors, after dodging soldier's bullets, risked their lives to traverse unmapped mine fields in search of food. Despite the heartache, I could not put the book down until I reached the end. Meeting Loung in person made me reaffirm my admiration for her.
Lucy Grealy
This is a harrowing, compelling story. Evoking a child's voice and viewpoint, Ung has written a book filled with vivid and unforgettable details. I lost a night's sleep to this book because I literally could not put it down, and even when I finally did, I lost another night's sleep just from the sheer, echoing power of it.
— (Lucy Grealy, author of Autobiography of a Face)
Helen Prejean
Despite the tragedy all around her, this scrappy kid struggles for life and beats the odds. I thought young Ung's would make me sad, but this funky child warrior carried me with her in her courageous quest for life. Reading these pages has strengthened me in my own struggle to disarm the powers of violence in this world.
— Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking
From the Publisher
"Ung's memoir should serve as a reminder that some history is best not left just to historians but to those left standing when the terror ends." —-Booklist Starred Review

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