Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind

Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind

4.3 12
by Loung Ung

View All Available Formats & Editions

After enduring years of hunger, deprivation, and devastating loss at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, ten-year-old Loung Ung became the "lucky child," the sibling chosen to accompany her eldest brother to America while her one surviving sister and two brothers remained behind. In this poignant and elegiac memoir, Loung recalls her assimilation into an unfamiliar new

See more details below


After enduring years of hunger, deprivation, and devastating loss at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, ten-year-old Loung Ung became the "lucky child," the sibling chosen to accompany her eldest brother to America while her one surviving sister and two brothers remained behind. In this poignant and elegiac memoir, Loung recalls her assimilation into an unfamiliar new culture while struggling to overcome dogged memories of violence and the deep scars of war. In alternating chapters, she gives voice to Chou, the beloved older sister whose life in war-torn Cambodia so easily could have been hers. Highlighting the harsh realities of chance and circumstance in times of war as well as in times of peace, Lucky Child is ultimately a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and to the salvaging strength of family bonds.

Editorial Reviews

Maria Elena Salinas
With all the innocence of a child, Ung speaks about the complexities of trying to understand American culture. She describes trying to be a kid in a place where she never quite felt she belonged. Ung reveals what it's like to go to school and have no friends, to be ridiculed for not understanding or speaking English and to live through it all while haunted by nightmares in which she relived the horrors of war … Ung's story is a compelling and inspirational one that touches universal chords. Americans would do well to read it, no matter where they were born.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
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." Agent, Gail Ross. (On sale Apr. 12) FYI: Publication coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge takeover. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Activist Ung's memoir of life after Pol Pot, a worthy sequel to First They Killed My Daughter (2004). Both of the author's parents, and many other relatives, were killed in the Khmer Rouge genocide. In 1980, Ung's older brother-sponsored by a local church-was able to leave Cambodia and settle in Vermont. He could afford to take his wife and one sibling with him, but that was all, so he chose the youngest (Ung) and left her beloved sister Chou behind. The two girls didn't meet again for another 15 years. Here, Ung tells both sisters' stories, chronicling her own adjustment to living in Burlington and Chou's life in Cambodia. The juxtaposition generally works well. The story of the older girl's arranged marriage, for example, is told against the backdrop of her sister's very American schoolgirl crushes, and Chou's attempts to get an education contrast effectively with Ung's comparatively luxurious studies at secondary school and then at St. Michael's College. Not surprisingly, the chapters about the author's personal experiences are more vivid. The scenes set in Vermont snap with vivid prose, and Ung imparts freshness to a fairly familiar immigrant's tale. Many of her new acquaintances call her Luanne instead of Loung, so Ung tries calling herself Luanne: "The name comes out of my mouth tasting like a spoonful of vinegar." Using food stamps at the Burlington grocery store imprints "shame stamps" on her face, marks that won't come off no matter how hard she scrubs. In one very funny scene, the excited girl rushes outside, barely able to move thanks to all her layers of winter clothes, shouting, "Snow! Snow!" to a blase neighbor wearing a light coat and sneakers who replies calmly, "No.Frost." When Ung feels embarrassed, or stupid, or frustrated, the reader won't be able to help empathizing. Chou, however, is two-dimensional, and the secondhand stories of her girlhood, though clear and interesting, remain just that: secondhand. Still, overall, here's a moving story of transition, transformation, and reunion. Author tour
“At once elegiac and clear-eyed, this moving volume is a tribute to the path not taken.”
Chicago Tribune
“[Ung] captured my heart...Lucky Child is captivating, deep and delightful.”
Miami Herald
“Deeply stirring...heart-breaking and not less than brilliant.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Highly readable.”
“Heart-rending and eloquent . . . a moving reminder of human resiliency and the power of family bonds.”
Amnesty International
“A rich narrative that explores the ravages of war and the strength of family bonds...powerful and moving.”
Washington Post Book World
“Ung’s story is a compelling and inspirational one that touches universal chords. Americans would do well to read it.”
Los Angeles Times
“Written with an engaging vigor and directness, Lucky Child is an unforgettable portrait of resilience and largeness of spirit.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Remarkable...Lucky Child is part adventure, part history and, in large part, a love story about family.”
Seattle Times
“[A] fiercely honest and affecting memoir.”
Eve Ensler
“A tender, searing journey of two sisters, two worlds, two destinies.”
Mary Pipher
“Ung is a masterful storyteller whose fresh clear prose shimmers with light and sorrow.”
Samantha Power
“A unique glimpse into America’s “melting pot”--a melting pot born of indescribable suffering but brimming with irrepressible life.”
Richard North Patterson
“As piercing and poignant as its title.”
Angelina Jolie
“I encourage everyone to read this deeply moving and very important book.”

Read More

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
6 MB

Meet the Author

An author, lecturer, and activist, Loung Ung has advocated for equality, human rights, and justice in her native land and worldwide for more than fifteen years. Ung lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband.

Read an Excerpt

Lucky Child

A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind
By Loung Ung

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Loung Ung
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060733950

Chapter One

Welcome to America

June 10, 1980

My excitement is so strong, I feel like there are bugs crawling around in my pants, making me squirm in my seat. We are flying across the ocean to resettle in our new home in America, after having spent two months living in a houseboat in Vietnam and five months in a refugee camp in Thailand.

"We must make a good impression, Loung, so comb your hair and clean your face," Eang orders me as the plane's engine drones out her voice. "We don't want to look as if we've just gotten off the boat." Her face looms in front of me, her nails working furiously in their attempts to pick crusty sleepy seeds out of the corners of my eyes.

"Stop, you're pulling out my eyelashes! I'll clean my own face before you blind me." I take the wet rag from Eang's hand.

I quickly wipe my face and wet the cruds on my lids before gently removing them. Then I turn the rag over to the clean side and smooth down my hair as Eang looks on disapprovingly. Ignoring her scowl, I ball up the rag, run it over my front teeth, and scrub hard. When I'm finished, I wrap the rag around my pointing finger, put it in my mouth, and proceed to scrapefood residue off my back teeth.

"All finished and clean," I chime innocently.

"I do have a toothbrush for you in my bag." Her annoyance is barely contained in her voice.

"There just wasn't time ... and you said you wanted me clean."


Eang has been my sister-in-law for a year and generally I don't mind her; but I just can't stand it when she tells me what to do. Unfortunately for me, Eang likes to tell me what to do a lot so we end up fighting all the time. Like two monkeys, we make so much noise when we fight that my brother Meng has to step in and tell us to shut up. After he intervenes, I usually stomp off somewhere by myself to sulk over how unfair it is that he takes her side. From my hiding place, I listen as she continues to argue with him about how they need to raise me with discipline and show me who has the upper hand or I'll grow up wrong. At first, I didn't understand what she meant by "wrong" and imagined I would grow up crooked or twisted like some old tree trunk. I pictured my arms and legs all gnarly, with giant sharp claws replacing my fingers and toes. I imagined chasing after Eang and other people I didn't like, my claws snapping at their behinds.

But no, that would be too much fun, and besides, Eang is bent on raising me "right." To create a "right" Loung, Eang tells Meng, they will have to kick out the tomboy and teach me the manners of a proper young lady -- which means no talking back to adults, fighting, screaming, running around, eating with my mouth open, playing in skirts, talking to boys, laughing out loud, dancing for no reason, sitting Buddha-style, sleeping with my legs splayed apart, and the list goes on and on. And then there is the other list of what a proper girl is supposed to do, which includes sitting quietly, cooking, cleaning, sewing, and babysitting -- all of which I have absolutely no interest in doing.

I admit I wouldn't fight Eang so hard if she followed her own list. At twenty-four, Eang is one year older than Meng. This little fact caused quite a stir when they married a year ago in our village in Cambodia. It also doesn't help that Eang is very loud and outspoken. Even at my age, I'd noticed that many unmarried women in the village would act like little fluttering yellow chicks, quiet, soft, furry, and cute. But once married, they'd become fierce mother hens, squawking and squeaking about with their wings spread out and their beaks pecking, especially when marking their territory or protecting their children. Eang, with her loudness and strong opinions, was unlike any unmarried woman I'd ever spied on. The other villagers gossiped that Meng should marry a young wife who could give him many sons. At her advanced age, Eang was already thought of as a spinster and too old for Meng, a well-educated and handsome man from a respected family. But neither one cared too much for what the villagers said and allowed our aunts and uncles to arrange their marriage. Meng needed a wife to help him care for his siblings and Eang needed a husband to help her survive the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge war, Cambodia's poverty, and increasing banditries. And even though they got married because of those needs, I do think they love each other. Like the two sides of the ying and yang symbol, together they form a nice circle. Whereas Meng is normally reserved and quiet, Eang makes him laugh and talk. And when Eang gets too emotional and crazy, Meng calms and steadies her.

"Thank you for the rag," I smile sweetly, handing it back to Eang.

"Did you see what she did, Meng?" Eang crunches her face in disgust as she rolls up the wet rag and puts it in her bag. On my other side, Meng is quiet as he pulls a white shirt from a clear plastic bag and hands it over to his wife. The shirt gleams in Eang's hands, crisp and new. When Meng found out we were coming to America, he took all the money we had and bought us all new white shirts. He wanted us to enter America looking fresh and unused despite our scraggy hair and thin limbs. Eang kept the shirts in a plastic bag so they would stay fresh and unwrinkled for this very special occasion ...


Excerpted from Lucky Child by Loung Ung Copyright © 2006 by Loung Ung. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >