Cambodia: First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Loung Ung

 

Market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

First They Killed My Father tells the heart wrenching story of Loung and her family’s desperate attempt to survive the Khmer Rouge take over in Cambodia. Loung, only five years old at the beginning of the story, begins her story by describing her middle class life in Phnom Penh. When the communist party takes over, she, her siblings and parents abandon their lives and pretend to be farm works in order to avoid being killed. The Khmer Rouge began by killing educated people in hopes of stopping any rebellion against them. Loung father worked for the government at the time of the take over and would have been one of the first to be killed if his identity was discovered. Loung tells her story from present tense and from perspective she had during the takeover, as a five year old child. This chilling perspective forces the reader to feel what she felt and helps the reader understand how the Khmer Rouge affected even the youngest children. While the Khmer Rouge was in power they killed over 2 million Cambodians, about ¼ of the population at the time.

When I ask Kim what a capitalist is, he tells me it is someone who is from the city. He says the Khmer Rouge government views science, technology, and anything mechanical as evil and therefore must be destroyed. The Angkar says the ownership of cars and electronics such as watches, clocks, and televisions created a deep class division between the rich and the poor. This allowed the urban rich to flaunt their wealth while the rural poor struggled to feed and clothe their families. These devices have been imported from foreign countries and thus are contaminated. Imports are defined as evil because they allowed foreign countries a way to invade Cambodia, not just physically but also culturally. So now these goods are abolished. Only trucks are allowed to operate, to relocate people and carry weapons to silence any voices of dissent against the Angkar. – Loung Ung

Monument at Choeung Ek, also known as The Killing Fields. Outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I read First They Killed My Father after my trip to Cambodia. While there I visited The Killing Fields, outside of Phnom Penh, and was struck by the massive genocide that took place. I was shocked that even though I had studied the genocide in Germany and the effect of the Communist party in Vietnam, I had never heard of the genocide that occurred in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge had power during the 1970’s, not that long ago, and yet the history textbooks in the U.S. never mention it. After visiting The Killing Fields, I knew I had to learn more about how this massive tragedy could happen. Loung’s book not only gives you a first-hand account of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, she also gives you a glimpse into the traditions of the Khmer people. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about Cambodia. While it is a heart-breaking read, it is also a book you cannot put down.

 

If you are ever in Phnom Phen, Cambodia, I recommend visiting Choeung Ek, also known as The Killing Fields. From Phnom Phen you can grab a tuk tuk for about 10-15 USD to take you the 8km to and from Choeung Ek. They have an audio tour for 6 USD. Check out Nomadic Matt’s post on other tips on Phnom Phen and my other posts on Cambodia for other recommendations.

 

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Megan is from sunny California and is currently living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She funds her travels by teaching students with learning challenges and students applying to U.S. universities. She loves traveling like a local, eating amazing food and is always up for an adventure. Check out her about me section to learn more!

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