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First They Killed My Father

A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

By Loung Ung
12-minute read
Audio available
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung

First They Killed My Father (2006) is Loung Ung’s memoir of her childhood experiences living under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia during the 1970s. She begins her story as the Khmer Rouge take power, forcing her family to flee the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, only to find themselves living as slave laborers, in constant fear that they would be personally targeted by the regime.

  • Anyone who’s seen the Oscar-winning film The Killings Fields
  • History buffs
  • Fans of autobiographies and memoirs

Loung Ung is a lecturer and activist. She has written extensively on Cambodia and her and her family’s experiences under the Khmer Rouge. She is the national spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine-Free World.

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First They Killed My Father

A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

By Loung Ung
  • Read in 12 minutes
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  • Contains 7 key ideas
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First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
Synopsis

First They Killed My Father (2006) is Loung Ung’s memoir of her childhood experiences living under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia during the 1970s. She begins her story as the Khmer Rouge take power, forcing her family to flee the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, only to find themselves living as slave laborers, in constant fear that they would be personally targeted by the regime.

Key idea 1 of 7

Loung Ung's privileged childhood in Cambodia came to a sudden end when the Khmer Rouge entered the city.

For Loung Ung, the day that forever changed her life began like any other. The year was 1975, and she was five years old.

She was playing with her friends on the balcony of her family’s apartment. There was nothing out of the ordinary to speak of – but by the end of the afternoon, her old life would be but a distant memory.

Her middle-class family lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city. Her father was a high-ranking military official and, as a result, the family could live in comparative luxury, several stories up in a modern apartment block.

In contrast, Phnom Penh’s poor lived without modern conveniences in makeshift tents.

The author and her siblings were fortunate. Not only did they have the luxury of going to school six days a week, they also went to the cinema, ate out and regularly went shopping. Her father even drove a fancy Mazda sports car, a symbol of wealth and status that few in Cambodia at that time could afford.

But on that April day, from her family’s balcony, Ung saw a swarm of soldiers marching into the city.

Her father later told her that they were the Khmer Rouge. This Communist rebel army had been fighting a civil war against Cambodia’s incumbent, democratic government – and the rebels had just won. The Khmer Rouge’s form of communism demanded that Cambodian citizens should all live simple, peasant lives off the land.

The soldiers were equipped with megaphones. As they marched through the city, they hollered at people to leave its confines, or else they would be shot down.

When she went back inside the apartment, Ung witnessed her family throwing their possessions into suitcases. Within a few hours, she, her parents, her two sisters and her three brothers left their family home, never to return.

They piled into an old truck and made their way out of the city. They weren’t alone; tens of thousands of other city dwellers were also fleeing.

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