Angelina Jolie Pitt is directing a Cambodia-set drama as a Netflix original movie, which will be based on First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung. I read the book back in 2009 immediately following a trip to Cambodia. It was a wonderful place to visit and an even more wonderful book.
Read a review of the book, which I originally published in 2009:
Book Review of First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
On a recent trip to Cambodia I got to witness it’s rich culture, lush landscapes and delicious, delicious food. At every turn I also saw the remnants of a painful past. I spent a hot afternoon walking through the Tuel Sleng Genocide Museum, having my breath taken away as I walked from room to room, each worse than the last. In one section of the former prison, I walked into a hastily made brick cell and felt so instantly claustrophobic I had to run out into the open air. The pictures, informational plaques and even the conversation, held via hand gestures, with a former prisoner couldn’t help me grasp the genocide that occurred not that long ago.
Later I went to Choeng Ek, the most (in)famous of the killing fields. I walked up to, around and even in the commemorative stupa that had been built to honor the murdered and to hold their remains. Seeing children’s skulls display evidence of so much violence with the cracks, dents and bullet holes broke my heart. Walking through the grounds and stepping on peoples’ bones and clothing remnants that were making their way up through the dirt… Knowing that every year the rains would bring up more remains…. How do people make peace with that? How do they move on?
Loung Ung lived through the genocide and has carried on her life by teaching others about what happened, helping them to survive the atrocities that seems to keep happening around the world. In her memoir First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers she tells of the Cambodia genocide from the eyes of a child. This perspective that makes what happened all the more heart-wrenching but also makes the facts easier to understand. (I use that word loosely, because I can never understand why what happened did, but I want to, need to, understand the facts of what did happen.)
Genocide is such a big concept. The Cambodia genocide was so messy, political, based on a series of events that made it possible. A child’s memory strips out all of the extraneous facts and delivers only what they know. In her memoir, Ung inserts the historical facts necessary to keep her story moving, but she inserts them as dialogue from her father delivered to her. History as would be explained to a small child doesn’t include the political intricacies that make our world so confusing. For this, I was grateful to Ung. Her tale helped me establish some basic knowledge from which I can expand with future reading.
A quick read, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is the kind of book you start reading and don’t want to put down. It’s a great introduction to anyone interested in visiting Cambodia, learning about their history or learning about genocide in general.