Surviving the Khmer Rouge: a Review of a memoir by Loung Ung

First they Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is the first of three memoirs written by Loung Ung describing her life during and after the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.  Between the years of 1975-1979, an estimated 1/5 of Cambodia’s population was killed as a result of the Khmer Rouge.  Ung tells her story from the point of view of her five-year-old self.

At the beginning of the memoir, Ung is a member of a large, close-knit, middle-class family.  When the Khmer Rouge invade Phnom Penh, where Ung and her family were living, all of her comfort and privilege is stripped away.  Over the next few years, Ung suffers through starvation, separation from those she loves, her training as a child soldier, and the devastating deaths of her family members.

Ung’s memoir is a harsh, heart-breaking tale of a time in Cambodia’s history when strength and hope were essential.  She captures and holds her audience’s attention by telling her story, not as though she is recalling a memory, but as though she is living the event at the present time.  Though the memoir is centered around the Khmer Rouge regime, First they Killed My Father is, at its heart, the intimate story of a young girl whose strength made her a survivor.

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