Books on Cambodia
By Loung Ung, 2005
Set in Cambodia and the United States (Vermont)
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“I know that in my new home, there is no war, hunger, or soldiers to be afraid of. Yet in the quiet recesses of my mind, the Khmer Rouge lurks and hovers in dark alleys, waiting for me at the bend of every corner. No matter how far I run, I cannot escape the dread that they have followed me to America.”
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I have to admit that I’ve been reading some books lately that are more putdownable than unputdownable. So, it was a relief to finally read a book that I wanted to keep on reading. And an added bonus is that Lucky Child was a nice, uplifting story that gave me a lot of hope during this awful year of 2020.
A Summary of Lucky Child
Lucky Child is the sequel to Loung Ung’s first book, First They Killed My Father which I have already reviewed (also unputdownable). In her first book, she writes about her and her family’s experience living through the Cambodian Genocide from 1975 to 1979 and her and her brother’s escape to a Thai refugee camp in 1980. First They Killed My Father was made into a movie directed by Angelina Jolie. You can find the movie on Netflix. Great movie, by the way.
The Ung family only has enough money to pay for two members to get to the United States.
Loung is the “lucky child” in the family. Her oldest brother, Meng, chooses her to go with him and his wife. Her sister, Chua, is the “unlucky child” and she stays behind in Cambodia.
The book tells the story of both sisters. In the odd-numbered chapters, we learn how Loung grows up from 10 to 25 years old, how she assimilates into American culture, and how she copes with the memories of her life during the Cambodia genocide (1975 – 1979).
In the even-numbered chapters, we get to learn about what happened in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge lost power through the story of Chua and the remaining family members that stayed behind.
The book covers the years from 1980 to 1995.
So we get the immigrant’s story—a story that has been the premise of countless books. However, what makes this story so special is that it’s told by someone who lived under the Khmer Rouge. We get to see how a young girl and then a teenager copes with memories of living through a genocide that killed 1.5 million people and seeing family members die from starvation, disease, and execution. I haven’t read an immigrant’s story like this one before.
I must say that I found myself wanting to stay longer with Loung’s chapters than her sister’s. Loung doesn’t hide her bad side. It’s raw and honest. She reveals all. She reveals her feelings about her classmates, her family, Americans, and even the Brady sisters from The Brady Bunch.
That being said, Chua’s chapters were still pretty compelling and revealing. I haven’t read any books on what it was like in Cambodia right after the Khmer Rouge fell from power. I assumed that once the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge from power, all was hunky-dory in Cambodia. From reading Chua’s chapters you’ll find out that this wasn’t the case.
In fact, the war went on for years. Pol Pot didn’t die until 1998! I found it just as informative as Loung’s part, but it perhaps didn’t grab my heart as much because it wasn’t as honest.
About the Author -Loung Ung
Loung Ung is an author, human rights activist and public speaker. She was born in Cambodia in 1970. She came to the United States in the summer of 1980 as a refugee, settling down in Vermont. She attended St. Michael’s College in Vermont. She has worked on projects to end violence against women, to stop the use of child soldiers, and to eradicate landmines. Along with Lucky Child, she has also written two other books about her life: First They Killed My Father and Lulu in the Sky.
Characters in Lucky Child
- Loung – she’s 10 years old at the beginning of the book
- Chua – She’s 13 years old at the beginning of the book
- Meng – Her oldest brother who goes with her to America
- Eang – Meng’s wife
- Uncle Leang – Loung’s mother’s brother
- Aunt Keang – Uncle Leang’s wife
- Khouy – second eldest brother
- Kim – third eldest brother
- Cheung – Chua’s female cousin
- Hong – Chua’s female cousin
- Hoa – Chua’s female cousin
- Kung – Chua’s female cousin, toddler
- Muoy – Chua’s cousin, infant
- Li Cho – a friend of Loung’s who she meets in the refugee camps and whose family also immigrates to Vermont at the same time as Loung
- Michael and Cindy Vincente – Loung and her family’s sponsors
- Joe and Lisa McNulty and their daughter Ahn – Americans who help Loung and her family
My Favorite Quotes
“In my mind, I worry that if fighting suddenly erupts in America, many of its frail citizens with their weaknesses will not survive.”
“As I leave them, I hear again the words many adults say to Meng and Eang when they are told of our story. ‘She’s lucky she went through the war at such a young age,’ they sympathize. They believe that my age means I’ll heal faster, that I won’t remember. They are wrong. I do remember, I just don’t have the words to tell them about it. And although most of the time I’m silent about the war, it’s never silent to me. It’s always with me, in the buzz of a low-flying plane, the boom of fireworks, the cry of a child, the hums of a mother, the hands of a father, and the rumbles in my stomach. And I’m sick of it all. I’m tired of waiting for the pain to heal. I want it cut out of my body.”
“Back in my bed, I turn on the light and pull out a wad of loose-leaf paper from the nightstand drawer. In the sky, the moon smiles approvingly as I pick up a black pen.”
“’I was born in Phnom Penh.’ I begin.”
“At times, it all still seems so strange. One year ago, I was afraid of being killed by soldiers, and now my big fear is that the teacher will call on me to answer a question.”
“I met Hailey on the very first day of our freshman year. We were both assigned to paint a file cabinet in the work-study program. In between sanding off the old paint and splattering on a new red coat, we talked about her year of living in Denmark and my years growing up in Cambodia. After our first day, Hailey researched and read up on Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge. This touched me in such a profound way that my eyes became red when she told me. For once, someone actually took the initiative to read about Cambodia and come to me with facts about the war and the Khmer Rouge’s politics that even I didn’t knew [sic]. For the next week, while we painted our one cabinet, Hailey became the first person I ever talked with at length about the Khmer Rouge genocide.”
Travel Posts on Cambodia
- Cambodia Itinerary: An Ideal Guide for Temple & Island Hoppers
- An Angkor Wat Itinerary That Will Delight History Lovers
- Phnom Penh Itinerary: The Perfect Guide for History Lovers
More Great Books on Cambodia
Here is a list of more of my favorite books on Cambodia:
- Survival in the Killing Fields – Haing Ngor (the movie The Killing Fields was based on the book)
- When the War Was Over – By Elizabeth Becker
- When Broken Glass Floats – By Chanrithy Him
- A History of Cambodia – By David Chandler
- Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare – By Philip Short
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