Book Review: First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

Posted on Friday, October 5th, 2012

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First they killed my father by Loung Ung‘First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers’ is the true story and autobiography of Loung Ung, who’s childhood ended abruptly when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge seized power over Cambodia in april 1975. Loung Ung was just 5 years old at the time and living a worry free life in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh as the daughter of a high ranked government official.

The coup of Pol Pot changed everything in the lives of Loung Ung and her family, as it affected the lives of all people living in Cambodia. Loung and her family had to flee the city and they were torn apart. Eventually Loung ended up in an orphanage where she was trained to become a child soldier. Her older siblings, on the other hand, were sent to work camps. The family would never be reunited again and those lucky ones, who survived the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, only found each other again after the war.

This breath taking book will pull you straight into the horrific tragedy that hit Cambodia in the 1970′s and will make you witness all the horrors of the Khmer Rouge through the eyes of a 5 year old girl. It’s a book about human cruelty, but also about the strength to survive and hope for a brighter future.

This book is a short read with its 288 pages, but nevertheless highly recommended for anybody interested in Cambodia’s recent history. It’s also a must-read for travelers planning to visit Cambodia in the near future. It will help you imagine the horrors of the Khmer Rouge when visiting places like the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, Tuol Sleng and other historic sites.

Apart from historic sites in remembrance of Cambodia’s tragic past, the country has so much more on offer for tourists and independent travelers, interested in a journey off the beaten path.

Cambodia’s main touristic center is the city of Siem Reap and more in particular the mythical temples of Angkor Wat nearby. The temple complex of Angkor Wat is an UNESCO world heritage site and the biggest religious construction in the world. These temples are a remembrance of a much richer era in Cambodia’s past and are exceptionally well preserved.

For the Cambodian people, Angkor Wat is much more than a touristic site and a reminder of a once powerful nation. It’s a symbol of reunification after the horrors of the communist Pol Pot regime and the symbol of Angkor Wat was even added to the national flag of the new democratic Cambodia.

Interested in visiting Cambodia and more specifically Ankor Wat? Then it’s definitely recommended that you make an upfront booking in one of the many Siem Reap hotels. The city can get extremely busy, especially in the high season from the beginning of November till the end of February.


Our rating: ★★★★★


  • Author: Loung Ung
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; First Harper Perennial trade edition, 2006
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060856262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060856267


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Tagged as Autobiography, Biography, cambodia, khmer rouge, War+ Categorized as By year, 2006, By rating, 4 Stars, By genre, Non fiction
  • Jay

    While the beginning and middle of Luong Ung’s “First They Killed My Father” is powerful, heartbreaking, and emotional, the epilogue is really pathetic. Did Luong really feel no emotion on coming to America? Could she not express thanks to America for being there, a place to flee to?
    The word “communism” appears only once that I can remember in the whole book. Once. Seems a rather odd diminution of this genocidal 20th century belief that enslaved millions, and killed tens of millions (far more than Hitler ever did).
    The Khmer Rouge was communist. Vietnam was communist. Luong didn’t flee to Vietnam. She came to America.
    I really fear that the leftwing politics of Sen. Leahy, and all those who surrounded young Luong in socialist Vermont, must have taught her to look at America as our current president does — just another country. One among many, and no better than anyone else.
    This book could and should have been a powerful indictment of the ugliness that is communism, in any of its many forms. But it failed. That is very sad.

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