Lulu in the Sky: A Daughter of Cambodia Finds Love, Healing, and Double Happiness
By Loung Ung, 2012
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“No one ever told me being with someone whose attributes you admire could show you all the ways you were broken, highlighting all the things you did not want to see in yourself.”
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Lulu in the Sky (Amazon | Bookshop.org) is the third book in a series of memoirs by Loung Ung about the Cambodian genocide. First They Killed My Father is about her and her family’s unforgettable experience in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge (1975-1980). Angelina Jolie directed a movie for Netflix with the same title based on her memoir.
In book two, Lucky Child, Loung tells both her story of growing up as a refugee in the United States and her sister’s story of staying behind in Cambodia (1980 – 1990, and then it jumps ahead to 1995). You can read my book review here.
The third book, Lulu in the Sky, is about her life at university and her years bringing light on the suffering that Cambodians endured under the Khmer Rouge and fighting to remove and ban landmines in her country and around the world (1990 – 2002).
Lucky Child left some holes in the story that Lulu in the Sky attempts to fill. The biggest hole for me was how Loung was able to go from this teenager who’d been emotionally scarred by genocide and the loss of her family to this successful and happy adult.
For more books on the history of Cambodia and the Cambodian genocide, check out my complete list of the best 25 books on Cambodia.
Summary and Review of Lulu in the Sky
You’ll have to read the book to find out what the title means. I don’t want to give too much away.
Falling in Love
A big chunk of this book was about how she meets, falls in love with, and marries her husband. This part was mildly interesting.
I sort of wavered about my feelings of Loung Ung in this part. She’s pretty open and honest about her feelings and actions, so we get to see both her good and bad sides.
On the one hand, what she thinks and does is not always pretty, and many times she comes across as kind of mean. Her moods are like a roller coaster.
Her boyfriend must have been the most patient person alive to have put up with her treatment of him and her emotional ups and downs. She comes across as one of those people who are mean to their partners in order to see how much they really love them. Is it a reflection of what happened to her? Maybe. However, I know lots of Americans who are like her, so I’m not sure you need to have gone through a genocide exactly to be like this.
On the other hand, I respected her for not being a woman whose life revolved around her boyfriend. She was independent and driven and she had other things in her life besides a boyfriend that she was passionate about.
Finding her Passion
My favorite part of the book was learning how she became active in the movement to ban landmines and to help victims of war. I wanted to spend more time learning about her involvement in these issues as humanitarian work is something in which I’d like to get more involved in the future. Her passion for her work was apparent and this I think made her more likable and admirable.
My second favorite part of the book is how she healed herself through raising people’s awareness of what happened in Cambodia, helping Cambodians who’ve suffered from the war, writing her memoir, and becoming more open about her childhood in Cambodia. I’ve heard other people who’ve had terrible childhoods use writing and activism to help recover from their traumas.
I admire what she’s accomplished and what she’s done. I would love to hear her speak someday or read another book by her on the current state of Cambodia or her humanitarian work.
If you’ve read First They Killed My Father and Lucky Child, then you’ll probably want to read Lulu in the Sky to find out what happened to Loung Ung. It’s happier and more optimistic than books one and two. But that also might be why it’s not as riveting or enlightening as the other two.
What you learn about Cambodian culture and history
Cambodian History: Loung Ung gives a brief but clear account of Cambodian history throughout the book. It’s interesting reading about her reaction to Pol Pot’s death and her meeting of Dith Prahn, the man who wrote Survival in the Killing Fields and the person whose life story the movie, The Killing Fields, was based on.
Cambodian Culture: Through her interaction with her family, you’ll learn quite a bit about the culture of families and village life in Cambodia. Family is everything in Cambodian culture. Much more so than in American culture. They’re very conservative and tight-knit, and they like to do everything together.
History of the VVAF and ICBL: I also found it fascinating to learn about the history of the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
My Favorite Quotes
“The girl knew the Angkar told many lies. Nevertheless, some of their messages were imprinted in the girl’s mind: Love makes you vulnerable; hate makes you strong. And only the strong survive.”
“In America, I read these bits of history with my dispassionate college-student mind, the cerebral part that took in information and filed it away. But the other part of me, the Cambodian girl who connected this history to her life—wanted to throw the books against the wall.”
“’Know who you’re talking to, know what you’re talking about, and know when to shut up.’”
“But perhaps it had not been my secret to keep? I wondered. Perhaps this story did not belong to me and needed to be let out because it belonged to the world? And maybe, the more people knew, the lighter my load would be.”
“The day I arrived in America, I tried to leave the girl behind and to pretend that she wasn’t a part of me. As I sat up straighter in my chair, I began to accept the fact that she was me.”
“I had begun the manuscript in anger, an act of revenge against Pol Pot and his soldiers, and ended up writing not a historical book on Cambodia but a memoir of my life and family.”
“There was power in naming of things: soldiers, guns, Khmer Rouge, war genocide.”
“With each stroke of my pen, in a kind of exorcism, I killed what I need to destroy and kept the people I wished had lived alive. In this way, writing was cathartic and healing.”
About the Author
Loung Ung is an author, human rights activist, and public speaker. She was born in Phnom Penh, 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.
More Posts on Cambodia
- Check out my jam-packed Cambodia itinerary that will take you from the best temples to the best beaches.
- This Angkor Wat itinerary guide will delight history lovers and Indiana Jones’ fans.
- Looking for info on Phnom Penh? Here’s my easy-to-follow guide on Phnom Penh. It includes loads of info on where to stay, eat, and go.
- I’ve also included all my favorite books on Cambodia in the list of 25 books.
- First They Killed My Father – Book Review
- Lucky Child – Book Review
- When the War Was Over – Book Review
More Great 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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