First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

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Raw, brutal, and descriptive, Loung Ung uses a personal experience to inform those willing to partake in her reflection of human struggle. First They Killed My Father is a memoir shedding light on her survival during the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the 1970s. She gives an in-depth analysis for the masses to experience and interpret her story.

Loung’s book is characterized by simple language and first person narrative. What appear to be qualities comparable to mediocre literature actually outline the brilliance of a powerful memoir. Though at times a little dry, the overall affect of the language is quite astute. Her word choice adds a clean and tasteful approach to telling her story and if anything, Loung’s writing techniques draw in a larger audience due to its simplicity. This style loosely resembles that of Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, proving that it doesn’t take high level vocabulary and extensive grammatical perfection to write a powerful piece of literature.

The overall plot can explicitly be described as raw, for Loung’s experiences remain effective in their candor. From the death of close family to the slaughter of a Khmer Rouge soldier, she allows her pen to scribble in-depth details of murder and hidden human struggle. The intense amount of vulgarity (and at many times over powering) is required. The central story line would be empty without it because it is through her use of details and description that Loung captures the essence of her story. Short and distinct, the plot leaves the reader consistently engaged due to the inevitably miserable plot. The only underlying issue is that Loung was a small child, about 5, when the meat of the story took place and her admittance to having family members fill in the gap of vague memories leaves her narrative questionable at times. Despite some uncertainty, the overall plot holds sound truths.
Her central themes are clear and precise, leaving little room for interpretation. This book whispers to its readers, drawing them in to take action. Loung’s language and plot leave evidence that this book was not meant to entertain, but inform. She captures the reader’s heart, making it impossible for someone to walk away without being affected by the content of her writing. She passes a burden onto the reader, something many pieces of literature lack. Her story is painful and draws emotion, even tears, with the turn of every page. In its earnestness First They Killed My Father reflects life, despite how brutal and imperfect it may be.
I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a short yet enlightening reading. It is not perfect, but Loung Ung’s story is worth the time. She connects to the reader beyond her lack of eloquence; her sincere tale of human struggle allows the reader to form an intimate connection with herself and ultimately Cambodia.





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