First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge take over the government of Cambodia, wishing to turn the country into an self-sufficient, “pure” agrarian society. The result is widespread famine, death, and brutal genocide of the Cambodian people. In her haunting memoir of her childhood during this period, Loung Ung details her transformation from a privileged “city” girl to a starving, homeless orphan who would kill to survive.

If you couldn’t tell from the title, this one is HEAVY. It’s heartbreaking to watch Ung narrate as her life goes from comfortable middle-class to an inch away from starvation or execution, all within a matter of days. What I liked most was that Ung writes from her child-self’s point of view — even though she’s an adult writing the memoir, it’s her five-year-old self telling the story. Her words are therefore simple but powerful, and you won’t soon forget her story. If you get easily grossed out, or if you’re not a big fan of violence, this one may not be for you. However, Ung’s memoir of her time in Cambodia is a testament to just how lucky so many of us are, and how much we should strive to help those around us.

Rating: 4.5/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS), click here.

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