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

This past year, there has been a lot of fear in the West, of violence, dictatorial leadership, uprising. Like it's new. Like it hasn't been happening in other parts of the world in such recent history. Sometimes, because of fear, we forget. It is so important to remember. Loung Ung remembers her country's history well, and in such detail, in First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.

Beginning in April 1975 and running through 1980, this book tells the story of five-year-old Loung Ung as she leaves her middle-class life behind in Phnom Penh and travels from one village or work camp to the next, with her family splitting into more and more disparate branches. Throughout all of it, there is hunger. Each family member sacrifices to increase their food rations, but Ung watches as her family grows thinner and thinner, with distending bellies. 

As such a young child, Ung lived through the death of her parents and siblings, the disappearance of many around her, the predation of boys and soldiers, the regularity of starvation and the toll of long work days in the sun. She was forced to grow strong as she fought off bullying for her small frame and white, Chinese complexion, and as she worked each day to keep herself fed. 

This is what the war has done to me. Now I want to destroy because of it. There is such hate and rage inside me now. The Angkar has taught me to hate so deeply that I now know I have the power to destroy and kill.
— Loung Ung, First They Killed My Father

Once the Vietnamese invaded, the obstacles did not go away. She reunited with two of her young siblings and they looked for families to protect and support them, being treated as the help and passed from one family to another. Then, more death and destruction as the Khmer Rouge drew closer. Eventually, she was reunited with more and more of her family and, being the youngest living sibling in the family, she was selected to travel with her eldest brother illegally to Thailand via Vietnam, to make their way to America. 

I think how the world is still somehow beautiful even when I feel no joy at being alive within it.
— Loung Ung, First They Killed My Father

Her siblings in Cambodia survived, and she would reunite with them only as an adult, but it appears this unfolds in her next memoir. In her life, she and her brother would go on to work hard building a life in America and sending money home to Cambodia, remembering Cambodia. She now works on the Campaign for a Landmine-free World. It is an incredible story.