First They Killed My Father

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First They Killed My Father
First edition
AuthorLoung Ung
Cover artistLoung Ung, Mary Schuck
CountryUnited States
Publication date
Media typePrint (paperback)
Pages238 p.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is a 2000 non-fiction book written by Loung Ung, a Cambodian-American author and childhood survivor of Democratic Kampuchea. It is her personal account of her experiences during the Khmer Rouge regime.


Until the age of five, Loung Ung lived in Phnom Penh, one of seven children of a high-ranking government official. She was a precocious child who loved the open city markets, fried crickets, chicken fights and sassing her parents. While her beautiful mother worried that Loung was a troublemaker, her beloved father knew Loung was a clever girl.

When Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge army captured Phnom Penh in April 1975, Ung's family fled their home and moved from village to village to hide their identity, their education, their former life of privilege. Eventually, the family dispersed in order to survive, but Ung’s parents were later killed by soldiers. Because Loung was resilient and determined, she walked to a work camp, where she was trained as a child soldier while her other siblings were sent to labor camps. As the Vietnamese liberated Cambodia by overthrowing the Khmer Rouge, the surviving siblings were slowly reunited. Bolstered by the shocking bravery of one brother, the vision of the others and sustained by her sister's gentle kindness amid brutality, Loung forged herself a new life.[1]


The book was harshly criticized by Sody Lay, co-founder of the Khmer Institute website, for historical inaccuracies and cultural inauthenticity. Reflecting on this negative review in an article for The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, Dr. Bunkong Tuon acknowledged Lay's criticisms, while defending Ung's work. Instead of dismissing Ung's text outright, Tuon argued that scholars should read First They Killed My Father not to garner historical facts about the Khmer Rouge, but to experience its emotional truth and to consider its subjective, narrative gaps and fissures as a signifier of trauma and a testament to the destruction perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge.[2]

Film adaptation[edit]

The book has been adapted into a movie that was produced and directed by Angelina Jolie. The film premiered on February 18, 2017 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.[3]

"The heart of it is Loung's story", Jolie states on the film. "It's the story of a war through the eyes of a child, but it is also the story of a country". To construct an accurate portrait of the genocide and war, Jolie used only Cambodian actors who speak their native language, Khmer. She gathered hundreds of survivors and their children to re-create their stories. The movie was filmed in Cambodia.


  1. ^ "First They Killed My Father (Ung)". LitLovers. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
  2. ^ Tuon, B. (5 June 2013). "Inaccuracy and Testimonial Literature: The Case of Loung Ung's First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers". MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. 38 (3): 107–125. doi:10.1093/melus/mlt032.
  3. ^ Calia, Michael (24 July 2015). "Angelina Jolie Pitt to Direct Netflix Original Film 'First They Killed My Father'". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 25 July 2015.

External links[edit]