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Book Review: “First They Killed My Father” by Loung Ung

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Loung Ung had it all-- two loving parents, warm dinners, and a house full of siblings. Although her family wasn't the richest in the neighborhood, they certainly weren't struggling to put food on the table, either. But at the end of the Khmer Rouge's reign, she had nearly lost everything. Her haunting tale is documented in her memoir, "First They Killed My Father," and her aching words speak for both herself and the thousands of Cambodian souls lost along the way. 

Loung Ung was only five when Cambodia's political landscape began to shift. The rise of dictator Pol Pot left her community torn and troubled as people began to pick sides. Loung's father, a well-known official and an educated man, found himself and his family at risk simply for his prominence and knowledge. The Ung family left their city with hundreds of others. Unbeknownst to them, their exodus from their home city marked the beginning of the end. 

Although the true (and frighteningly recent) story of the Khmer Rouge is already horrifying enough, Ung makes the pain even more real for her readers by choosing to write her narrative from the first-person perspective of herself as a young girl. If there is anything more heartbreaking than the mass murder of a country, it is hearing the tales of forced labor and physical violence from the voice of a child who is unable to process the horrors that are happening to her and her family. 

Ung's unbreakable link between the historical aspects of Pol Pot's reign and her emotional connection to the tragedies that befell her turn "First They Killed My Father" into a truly staggering memoir. Those that liked the book and want to further their knowledge about the Cambodian genocide may also be interested in Netflix's film adaption of Ung's memoir, which can be found under the same title as the book. 

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