First They Killed My Father is a breathtaking and heartbreaking memoir written by Loung Ung on her childhood journey. It is a must-read. Ung was only five years old when the Khmer Rouge (Communist Party) took over Cambodia in 1975. The Khmer Rouge reigned over Cambodia for four years. When Ung and her family were forced out of their home in Phnom Penh, Ung faced many struggles such as surviving the training camp where she was sent to be a soldier, the treatment that she faced as a girl/women, and the bond that she had with her family that the Khmer Rouge soldiers tried to destroy.
Ung lived in Phnom Penh until she was five. She grew up as a privileged citizen and her father was part of the government. Her comfortable lifestyle is something often referred to, as she is receiving a good education and does not have chores because the cleaning lady does them, unlike many children. Because of this, the family always had some fear looming over them knowing that sometimes government officials are threatened. When the Khmer Rouge soldiers took over they forced everyone out of the city of Phnom Penh and into the countryside. It was Ung’s last day being a child and she was forced to grow up too quickly. From this point onwards she will face many hardships and traumas that no child should ever go through.
For a period of time, Ung and her family were settled in a work camp where they worked from when the sun went up to when the sun went down. This is not how a child should be living and these are not the types of stresses children should have. Children should be studying, playing, and exploring. They should not be laboring in fear as Ung did. The family had very little food and went hungry at night most times.
Ung's style of writing is what hooks the reader. As you read it feels as if you are actually there. Her elaborate descriptions entice all of the senses and her ability to create suspense has you flipping pages. I finished the entire book in one day. I had to know, what happens to this precious child? The fact that this is a memoir will allow you to broaden your global perspective and understand that children are mistreated every day, especially in third-world countries. This book is a beautifully written learning experience.
Loung Ung experienced so much trauma in her life. She was only a child when the Khmer Rouge took over and she did not understand the political or the social issues that were happening at the time. Ung also was ripped away from family members one by one. It started with her beloved father. The man that she trusted the most and was always honest with her. After he was taken away she took on more responsibility. She started to look after her mother. A child should not have to take on the responsibility that Ung took on.
Children should not have to worry about if they have enough food to eat for the night or being afraid as a young girl that a soldier could come and take you away from your family to marry you off to another soldier. Ung was living in a time where being a girl was dangerous and being a strong, hardworking child put her in the position to be a child soldier. Children should not be soldiers. Child soldiers are taught to kill and taught to hate. Child soldiers are being shaped to be almost like killing machines. Children should not be raised in that environment or any war environment. Children are the light of the world but we can not and should not raise them with hate in their hearts.