CW: family death, genocide, rape, and child soldiers
I think the hardest thing about this book is that I don’t know what to say about it. It was a good book, excellent at times. It hit me hard with what happened and what they went through. Yet, I felt like the writing could have drawn me in more and made me feel even more deeply with Loung Ung and what she went through.
By no means am I saying that this is a bad or unimportant book. As someone who had only heard the name “Pol Pot” in passing and had no idea what he was connected to, this book taught me more than I thought I would ever know about what happened in Cambodia.
This book is told from the perspective of a five-year-old. That was a double-edged sword. While I appreciate the ignorance and how true the author stayed to how she felt or what she knew — not what she remembered plus research to make it more polished — it also made it harder for me to get into. It took me the longest time to get into the book because I felt a disconnect between Loung and myself.
It follows her story carefully for the next four years, taking her from education camps to labor camps to a camp training child soldiers to fight against the Vietnamese (called Youn in this as a derogatory term). It follows her through the loss of family members, too. Their family of nine was whittled down to five. And then further because Loung went to America with one of her brothers.
Being someone incredibly close to my immediate family (for me, that’s my mom and dad), I can’t imagine how that felt and how to go through that in your formative years. The constant fear and starvation, knowing that you could be killed for no reason at all. It’s something that I can’t comprehend entirely.
So, while this book is a very important book — and I know that many Americans are as ignorant as I am; we talk about the Vietnam War but never the Cambodian genocide — I felt disconnected and apart from it for a while. I wanted it to have an emotional impact like The Best We Could Do, but it never got there for me.