First They Killed My Father – Review

Publication Year : 2000


In 1975, Pol Pot and his Communist organization, Angkar, took over Cambodia. Loung Ung, the writer of this harrowing record, is a daughter of a servant of the regiment before Angkar. First They Killed My Father is her account of the unimaginable tragedy and persecution that her family had to endure from the beginning till the point where they got to exit from it. During the period of 1975 to 1980, child Loung already lost family members, was forced to survive independently, struggled to last from starvation, malnourishment, and the killings. 


To me personally, among all kinds of memoirs, escape to freedom stories like First They Killed My Father are the most unforgettable ones. Not only does it tell such a tragic journey, but it is also based on true events which are forever part of actual dark history.

Loung is a lucky kid who was kind of saved by both fate and her big brother. She was five when Cambodia was taken over by the Communist, and she was still only eight when rescue came. She was picked by her brother to be the only person other than himself and his wife to take an unpredictable travel to the States, hopefully, to a brighter future. The single reason behind this decision was that she was the only one still young enough to start school. Other family members of hers have stayed in Cambodia ever since, despite the ongoing civil war.

Compared to its contemporaries like Wild Swans, there are a couple of things that particularly up the degree of misfortune in this book. The most extreme item, other than how tremendously young Loung was, being that the revolution was at its beginning phase in 1975, thus naturally, Pol Pot sensed the urgency to take a great deal of hard measures to ensure the stability of his nascent position of power. Understandably, first thing he did when he rose was eliminating all servants of former regime. Which was unfortunate for Loung’s family, because the slaughter list included Loung’s dad, who had a higher position in the previous government. Loung’s family which consisted of two adults, two youths, four underage children and one baby, not only had to suffer from the indiscriminate atrocity of the Angkar, they also were literally running to escape the killing checklist. Living in that level of intensity of suspicion at a very young age no wonder confused Loung in many ways. But in the same span of those three catastrophic years, she also grew up to be a strong survivor she wouldn’t have been otherwise.   

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  1. You are such a great writer. It shows in these thoughtful and detailed reviews. I’ve been meaning to read more non-fiction and this one seems like an important one to read. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for this review, this is one I really want to read now. I visited Cambodia about 15 years ago and was fascinated by the tragic history of this beautiful country.

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