Sunday, April 24, 2016

Book Review: First They Killed My Father

Lately I've been reading a lot about South East Asia.  I'm not exacting sure what spurred my interest there.  Maybe it's because my aunt, who I am very close with, is from Cambodia and I hope to go there some day.  Maybe it's because of the class I audited in the Fall, which discussed the political situations in many of these countries, and I want to learn more.  Or maybe it's because this is the region I focus on at work.  Nonetheless, I've found myself reading quite extensively specifically about Cambodia and Myanmar (aka Burma).

In looking for my next book to seek out at the library, I was looking for more information on the Cambodian genocide that occurred between 1975 and 1979.  I had read a couple other books about Cambodia, but nothing specifically detailing the genocide, which seems to have had quite the impact on modern day Cambodia, which is among the poorest countries in South East Asia.  First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung found its way to the top of many lists of books on this subject, so I figured if I wanted to know more that this was the book to read.


This book was written by a woman who, along with the rest of her family suffered through the four years of terror inflicted by the Khmer Rouge.  Loung was only five years old when her family had to leave their happy life in Phnom Penh to go live out in the countryside.  She describes in great detail the horrors that they suffered.  Throughout the four years her family moved and separated several times.  There were parts of this ordeal where it was safer for Loung to pretend to be an orphan and live in an orphan work camp, but she eventually made her way back to her family and in the end to the United States.

It amazes me how she managed to bring herself to write this book about such an experience that a child of that age (or anyone, for that matter) should never have to go through.  I appreciated that she went back to describe things that, at the time, I'm sure, she didn't understand.  This book was very well written and it brings together facts, Loung's story, and the genuine perspective of a little girl.

Stories like this make you wonder how people survived the horrible conditions they were subjected to in places like Cambodia, but from this book you can truly tell the fire and persistence that Loung had and probably still has inside herself.  This is what saved her.