One of the most striking elements of First They Killed My Father is author Loung Ung's darkly poetic style. Written in a first person present tense that leaves the reader devastated by its immediacy, this isn't your typical childhood memoir. Loung's title is apt—after the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge slaughtered her father (a pre-Communist government official), they proceeded to systematically find and kill the rest of the family.
Loung was 5 years old at the time of the takeover. She was kidnapped and trained as a child soldier in work camps while her siblings were sent to other concentration camps. All of them suffered inhuman brutality on a level which Americans can't even imagine, insulated as we are from the kind of unleashed evil the Cambodian people came to know suddenly and completely in a few short, hellishly long years that claimed nearly a third of the population. But while the rest of the nation dissolved in hate and despair, Loung and her family held tenaciously (if sometimes tenuously) to the humanizing elements of love and loyalty that characterized their family before the chaos.
DO NOT read this before bed. The horrors Loung encountered are graphically described and relentless. This is genuinely nightmarish and nightmare-inducing content, filled with bloodshed and sadism and blank terror that gives way to numbness and emptiness, both far more terrifying and dangerous than the carnage preceding them. Loung's story culminates in one of the most chilling scenes ever evoked in literature—one for which this book, and the story it contains, will likely be remembered for generations to come.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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