First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers



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.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

The Best We Could Do



TW: death, war, murder, death of a child, and PTSD

They taught us to be respectful, to take care of one another, and to do well in school. Those were the intended lessons. The unintentional ones came from their unexcorcised demons… and from the habits they formed over so many years of trying to survive.

This was such a beautiful book. Seriously.

I was drawn to this book (not just because I got it for free from a friend who goes to UCLA) because of the story of a family’s life. This takes place in Vietnam through the turmoil of constant regime change, even before the Vietnam War took place.

This is such a difficult book to describe because it doesn’t follow the author’s journey per say. It mainly follows her parents and their experiences with how they grew up in a country that was unstable. They had two different lives but the same outcome, living in constant fear and doing their best to survive no matter what life brought them.

Her mother came from a privileged family who was in agreement with the French government. Her father lived in two different lives; one with his grandparents who had a French affinity and one with his father who was against the French government. But, in the end, both were enemies of the government, forced to flee and hide with kids in tow.

And, this book is about how their life experiences informed how they raised their children to live and be. And how perhaps it wasn’t the best way to raise kids. But, as the title says, it was the best they could do. No matter what, they did the best they could do.

It was also about the author having a child and reflecting on her parents, as most new parents do. Deciding what to change, what to keep, what to keep the same from their own childhood. And finally seeing their parents in a new light.

While my description of the book pales in comparison, I highly recommend it. It was a beautifully told story, but also so hard to read at times because of the subject matter.

First Lines Friday

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

Caidyn will be in blue.
Chantel will be in purple.

Phnom Penh city wakes early to take advantage of the cool morning breeze before the sun breaks through the haze and invades the country with sweltering heat. Already at 6 A.M. people in Phnom Penh are rushing and bumping into each other on dusty, narrow side streets. 

I’ve had this book on my to-read list since 2015, which was probably when Goodreads made a huge deal out of this being made into a movie. Either way, it does look good and fits into Asian/Pacific Heritage Month perfectly!

It is…

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

Yep! I’m reading this one! Admittedly, I don’t know a whole lot about Cambodia, so I think that not only will this be a very good read, but it will be enlightening about a country that I don’t know much about. It looks very sad (an understatement, admittedly) but I’m excited to read this.

I don’t mean to be dramatic, but God save me from Morgan picking our set list. That girl is a suburban dad’s midlife crisis in a high school senior’s body.

Case in point: she’s kneeling on the floor, using the keyboard stool as a desk, and every title on her list is a mediocre classic rock song. I’m a very tolerant person, but as an American, a musician, and a self-respecting human being, it is both my duty and my privilege to blanket veto that shit. 

I love this character’s voice. It’s so snarky and matter of fact. In just two paragraphs, I already know I’m going to enjoy this character. So far, I’m not wrong, but it’s interesting how this character has gone from disliked to a bisexual icon. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. 

This week I’ve chosen…

The number one New York Times Bestseller…

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Leah on the Offbeat cover

This was on my list of most anticipated books coming out this year and I’m excited to have it in my queer little hands. I don’t remember much about Leah in Simon vs. the Homo Sapien’s Agenda, but I did like the way they changed her character in Love, Simon. I found her more likable and liked the actress despite her not being the right body type for the character. Already I find Leah more likable from her own point-of-view. I would say the only odd thing is that Simon comes off a bit weird, but I’m also thinking about movie Simon and not book Simon. Maybe I should re-read it. 

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose by Joe Biden

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose



To me, this book was an explanation. Perhaps an apology, but mainly an explanation about why he chose not to run. And, I don’t have much to say about this book. It’s incredibly well-written and insanely moving. Between bouncing about domestic and foreign problems that came up during this period (2014-2016), it also covers his son’s, Beau, battle with cancer that he eventually lost.

And, yes, I did cry. A few times. And teared up about every single chapter. So, don’t read it in public. Unless you like crying in public, then go for it and don’t let me dictate your life.

What I really loved was how Biden quietly showed just how much he had going on in his life, without it feeling as if he was hammering it into me that it was too much stress and too many hardships that were pressed upon him. He showed exactly why. He weaved in the never-ending Ukraine/Russia problems. The issues with ISIL and trying to get people from the area to work together. The domestic shootings, from the two police officers murdered in their patrol car to the Charleston shooting. And then he covered Beau’s cancer and the progression of that. He explained the difficult things, using them quietly to make the point for exactly why he chose not to run.

An extremely good memoir for a very specific period in his life. I’d highly suggest it.