Friday 6 March 2009

Book review: First They Killed My Father (A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers)

image On Monday I finished reading First They Killed My Father which is the autobiographical story of a young girl's experiences during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.  I've read a lot of books like this and I usually find them uplifting but this book just made me sad.  In Rwanda, you see people's incredible resilience and determination to overcome the prejudices of the past.  When I read the story of the boy solider, A Long Way Gone, I was heartened by the knowledge that he had escaped that life and become a strong and motivational person.

The problem is that I cannot derive anything positive at all from what happened in Cambodia. For four years the Khmer Rouge government systematically worked, starved and tortured to death 20% of the population. The reason that I picked up this book in the first place is that they have started genocide trials in Cambodia now and I wanted to understand why. I have collected a couple of links over at my other blog to make a start at understanding what happened.

This excellent and tender book details the experiences of a 5-year-old girl as she experiences starvation and the loss of her family members. She acknowledges at the start of the book that her brothers and sister helped her with the book and this accounts for the strong recall of conversations and events. This is a book rich in details about both the cosmopolitan life in Phnom Penh in the early 70s and the desperate futility of the Khmer Rouge regime.

I would unequivocally recommend this book to everyone that I know. I think everyone should read it to understand both what happened and the necessity behind bringing the Khmer Rouge members to trial. It is a really easy book to read and you will find it quite difficult to put down.  But yes... in the end it is a very sad story.  I have the most uneasy feeling that in 30 years time, we will be reading similar stories about Darfur and we'll be left wondering why we didn't do anything about it.


  1. There is a book I would like to recommend. It's called Irretrievably Broken. It's a story about a mother, daughter and granddaughter/niece who travel from Washington state to Washington DC. They stop along the way to visit friends and relatives. The main point of the story is remembering the past. The mother and her best friend grew up during World War II and it goes into the story of them becoming friends and the rescue of the friend after her parents were killed. It does make a positive point. I'm about half way through and I'm loving it even though I don't normally read books about WWII

  2. Hi Martha. Thanks for the recommendation - I have added it to my ever-expanding to-read list. I don't think it is released in UK thought yet!


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