Cambodia has a very sad past, with a genocide conducted by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s that directly or indirectly killed a quarter of the country’s population. I learnt about these atrocities in Phnom Penh at the Killing Fields and S21 - a former prison and now a museum. The audio guides at both these places are moving, evocative and informative and place a strong emphasis on bearing witness - remembering and respecting those that died and standing with Cambodians in strengthening their country. This is what led me to want to read ‘First they killed my father’; an autobiographical account by Loung Ung, and I was lucky enough to be given a copy. I met Megan on a bus who gave it to travel buddy extraordinaire Kate who gave it to me when she was finished.
Loung Ung was five years old when black clad Khmer Rogue soldiers stormed Phnom Penh where she lived with her middle-class family. Up to that time it seems that Cambodia’s capital was largely how it is today - with busy markets selling everything you can imagine, and plenty of street food as well as traffic problems! Loung and her family were all forced out of the city and marched to the countryside. Miss Ung’s five year old voice tells her harrowing story. Labour camps and army training camps, starvation, secrecy, illness and the loss of family members are all told from the little girl’s point of view. The simple, childlike language rang inside my head as my imagination sketched the appalling images. Clever narrative techniques allow the author to describe acts and events that she heard of or imagined, giving a full picture of the country’s suffering.
If you’ve read my other blog posts, you’ll know how much the history permeates everyday experiences in modern Cambodia. To better understand and to bear witness I highly recommend reading this book. By placing historical events in a personal context perhaps we can stop similar events occurring elsewhere in the future.
I will happily post one of you my copy. Comment below.