First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

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Annotation: From a childhood survivor of Cambodia's brutal Pol Pot regime comes an unforgettable narrative of war crimes and desperate actions, the unnerving strength of a small girl and her family and their triumph of spirit.
Genre: Biographies
Catalog Number: #103042
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
All Formats: Search
Common Core/STEAM: Common Core Common Core
Publisher: HarperCollins
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition Date: 2006
Pages: 238 p.
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-06-085626-2 Perma-Bound: 0-8479-8543-1
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-06-085626-7 Perma-Bound: 978-0-8479-8543-2
Dewey: 921
LCCN: 99034707
Dimensions: 21 cm.
Language: English
Kirkus Reviews
A rare, chilling eyewitness account of the bloody aftermath of the Khmer Rouge's merciless victory over the Cambodian government in April 1975, as seen through the eyes of a precocious child. The author—national spokesperson for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation's"Campaign for a Landmine Free World— program, whose activities won her the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize—was, in 1970, the five-year-old daughter of a Cambodian government official when her loving, close-knit, middle-class family of seven children first learned of the Khmer Rouge's approach to their hometown of Phnom Penh. The family fled, constantly moving, trying to hide their identity as educated urban people who would be regarded by their agrarian enemies as "exploiters.— Eventually they were captured, robbed, beaten, half- starved, and sent to forced-labor camps. In time, Loung's father and mother were killed, her older sister and baby sister died of malnutrition and disease, and her older brothers and she were recruited to serve the Khmer Rouge. The genocidal fury endured by Loung's family and other families caused a widespread and lasting hatred of the Khmer Rouge. Her surviving relatives split up to avoid being executed together, and through their courage and resourcefulness managed to stay alive despite the bloodbath. In time, Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia and Pol Pot's forces were destroyed, but not before millions of Cambodians perished. Ung, her older brother, and his family were rescued by a humanitarian group and came to the US to build a new life; ultimately, the surviving family members would meet again. A harrowing true story of the nightmare world that was Cambodia in those terrible times of mass murder and slow death through overwork, starvation, and disease. Will affect even readers who cannot find Ung's homeland on a map. (8 pages b&w photos)
School Library Journal
YA-Ung was a headstrong, clever child who was a delight to her father, a high-ranking government official in Phnom Penh. She was only five when the Khmer Rouge stormed the city and her family was forced to flee. They sought refuge in various camps, hiding their wealth and education, always on the move and ever fearful of being betrayed. After 20 months, Ung's father was taken away, never to be seen again. Her story of starvation, forced labor, beatings, attempted rape, separations, and the deaths of her family members is one of horror and brutality. The first-person account of Cambodia under the reign of Pol Pot will be read not only for research papers but also as a tribute to a human spirit that never gave up. YAs will applaud Ung's courage and strength.-Katherine Fitch, Rachel Carson Middle School, Fairfax, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Ung was only five when the Khmer Rouge began their murderous siege of Cambodia in 1975. By its end in 1979, approximately two million Cambodians had died from torture, execution, or starvation. Ung begins her narration as the family was sent into exile, vividly describing their struggle for survival in a world gone mad. Only half of her family will survive. Few families were left whole when the campaign was over. What sets Ung apart is that her childlike innocence, so evident early in her story, gives way to a crude but certain instinct for survival. As a child laborer in a garden she witnesses the daily burials of whole families. I see them dig a hole underneath the hut of the dead family. . . . There were times when such scenes terrified me, but I have seen the ritual performed so many times that I feel nothing. At one point, she looks hopefully at a beautiful sunset. Maybe there are gods living up there after all. When are they going to come down and bring peace to our land? But then her father is taken away, never to be seen again. Unlike other major horrors of this century, there has been little literature from the Cambodian tragedy. Perhaps Ung's memoir should serve as a reminder that some history is best not left just to historians but to those left standing when the terror ends. (See also Chandler, p.741.) (Reviewed December 15, 1999)
Word Count: 95,101
Reading Level: 6.0
Interest Level: 9+
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 6.0 / points: 15.0 / quiz: 56569 / grade: Upper Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:7.5 / points:21.0 / quiz:Q24303
Lexile: 920L
First They Killed My Father
A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

Chapter One

phnom penh

April 1975

Phnom Penh city wakes early to take advantage of the cool morning breeze before the sun breaks through the haze and invades the country with sweltering heat. Already at 6 A.M. people in Phnom Penh are rushing and bumping into each other on dusty, narrow side streets. Waiters and waitresses in black-and-white uniforms swing open shop doors as the aroma of noodle soup greets waiting customers. Street vendors push food carts piled with steamed dumplings, smoked beef teriyaki sticks, and roasted peanuts along the sidewalks and begin to set up for another day of business. Children in colorful T-shirts and shorts kick soccer balls on sidewalks with their bare feet, ignoring the grunts and screams of the food cart owners. The wide boulevards sing with the buzz of motorcycle engines, squeaky bicycles, and, for those wealthy enough to afford them, small cars. By midday, as temperatures climb to over a hundred degrees, the streets grow quiet again. People rush home to seek relief from the heat, have lunch, take cold showers, and nap before returning to work at 2 P.M.

My family lives on a third-floor apartment in the middle of Phnom Penh, so I am used to the traffic and the noise. We don't have traffic lights on our streets; instead, policemen stand on raised metal boxes, in the middle of the intersections directing traffic. Yet the city always seems to be one big traffic jam. My favorite way to get around with Ma is the cyclo because the driver can maneuver it in the heaviest traffic. A cyclo resembles a big wheelchair attached to the front of a bicycle. You just take a seat and pay the driver to wheel you around wherever you want to go. Even though we own two cars and a truck, when Ma takes me to the market we often go in a cyclo because we get to our destination faster. Sitting on her lap I bounce and laugh as the driver pedals through the congested city streets.

This morning, I am stuck at a noodle shop a block from our apartment in this big chair. I'd much rather be playing hopscotch with my friends. Big chairs always make me want to jump on them. I hate the way my feet just hang in the air and dangle. Today, Ma has already warned me twice not to climb and stand on the chair. I settle for simply swinging my legs back and forth beneath the table.

Ma and Pa enjoy taking us to a noodle shop in the morning before Pa goes off to work. As usual, the place is filled with people having breakfast. The clang and clatter of spoons against the bottom of bowls, the slurping of hot tea and soup, the smell of garlic, cilantro, ginger, and beef broth in the air make my stomach rumble with hunger. Across from us, a man uses chopsticks to shovel noodles into his mouth. Next to him, a girl dips a piece of chicken into a small saucer of hoisin sauce while her mother cleans her teeth with a toothpick. Noodle soup is a traditional breakfast for Cambodians and Chinese. We usually have this, or for a special treat, French bread with iced coffee.

"Sit still," Ma says as she reaches down to stop my leg midswing, but I end up kicking her hand. Ma gives me a stern look and a swift slap on my leg.

"Don't you ever sit still? You are five years old. You are the most troublesome child. Why can't you be like your sisters? How Will you ever grow up to be a proper young lady?" Ma sighs. Of course I have heard all this before.

It must be hard for her to have a daughter who does not act like a girl, to be so beautiful and have a daughter like me. Among her women friends, Ma is admired for her height, slender build, and porcelain white skin. I often overhear them talking about her beautiful face when they think she cannot hear. Because I'm a child, they feel free to say whatever they want in front of me, believing I cannot understand. So while they're ignoring me, they comment on her perfectly arched eyebrows; almond-shaped eyes; tall, straight Western nose; and oval face. At 5'6", Ma is an amazon among Cambodian women. Ma says she's so tall because she's all Chinese. She says that some day my Chinese side will also make me tall. I hope so, because now when I stand I'm only as tall as Ma's hips.

"Princess Monineath of Cambodia, now she is famous for being proper," Ma continues. "It is said that she walks so quietly that no one ever hears her approaching. She smiles without ever showing her teeth. She talks to men without looking directly in their eyes. What a gracious lady she is." Ma looks at me and shakes her head.

"Hmm..." is my reply, taking a loud swig of Coca-Cola from the small bottle.

Ma says I stomp around like a cow dying of thirst. She's tried many times to teach me the proper way for a young lady to walk. First, you connect your heel to the ground, then roll the ball of your feet on the earth while your toes curl up painfully. Finally you end up with your toes gently pushing you off the ground. All this is supposed to be done gracefully, naturally, and quietly. It all sounds too complicated and painful to me. Besides, I am happy stomping around.

"The kind of trouble she gets into, while just the other day she" Ma continues to Pa. but is interrupted when our waitress arrives with our soup.

"Phnom Penh special noodles with chicken for you and a glass of hot water," says the waitress as she puts the steaming bowl of translucent potato noodles swimming in clear broth before Ma.

First They Killed My Father
A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers
. Copyright © by Loung Ung. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

From a childhood survivor of the Camdodian genocide under the regime of Pol Pot, this is a riveting narrative of war crimes and desperate actions, the unnerving strength of a small girl and her family, and their triumph of spirit.

One of seven children of a high-ranking government official, Loung Ung lived a privileged life in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh until the age of five. Then, in April 1975, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge army stormed into the city, forcing Ung's family to flee and, eventually, to disperse. Loung was trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans, her siblings were sent to labor camps, and those who survived the horrors would not be reunited until the Khmer Rouge was destroyed.

Harrowing yet hopeful, Loung's powerful story is an unforgettable account of a family shaken and shattered, yet miraculously sustained by courage and love in the face of unspeakable brutality.


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