First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers
Loung Ung
Harpercollins, 2000
240 pp.


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The sympathy the general public has expressed for victims of the Khmer Rouge after reading this book has been inspirational. Many Cambodian Americans as well were very excited to see Loung Ung speaking out about her experience. After reading her book however, these individuals, many of whom also suffered through the Killing Fields, felt disillusioned and betrayed. Unlike the general public, these individuals have direct experience and knowledge of their own about Cambodia to compare with what was claimed in the book. Below are some of their comments:

"I do not mind that [some Cambodian autobiographers have] dramatized their so called true stories to some degree. But Loung's book seemed over the top to me."
- Akhara Viruth

"There are many people in my generation who remember things that happened during the 70's. What Loung Ung remembers (or doesn't remember) are completely different from what I and many of us (that I have spoken to) do remember. ... Friends, Loung lies. Not once but many times in her book. From chicken fights to the trip to Angkor Wat that didn't happen. ... Many Khmer people who have read Loung's book and have not been blinded by the media are now beginning to realize that their race has been denigrated. It is unacceptable anywhere in this country and we should not condone such engagements. I was very proud of Loung's accomplishment until I finished reading and digesting her entire book. It turns out that in spite of high publicity, this book contains nothing more than self-serving, self-glorifying statements for Loung and her racial background. ... Yes, indeed, the Khmer Rouges were and are horrible and criminal. Millions have died and vanished during their reign, but no one should take advantage of the situation to look down on the entire Khmer race. Loung should not have done that. Through her book, Loung has done Khmers much injustice."
- Virak Pruhm

"Being people who had also been part of Cambodia in the 70's we are able to see the lies and fiction that this woman has used to create a novel to pass out false information to the public about the lives of the Khmer people."
- Vongserey

"While millions of Khmer people suffered from all kinds of atrocities - the American bombings, displacement, communist killings, and other such violence during the 70-75 war - Loung's family managed to live happily in the capital, among other privileges. Raising seven children with an in-house maid was not ordinary. Hundreds of officials of Lon Nol's regime helped communist causes by being corrupt. It was not difficult for the Cambodian peasants to join the communist revolution considering the social injustices that the 'privileged' class had created. The resentment and wide gap between lower and upper classes effect differently according to each village under the Cambodian communist regime. Loung's portrayal of the Cambodian communist or the Angka wanting to kill the Chinese is slimly true. They didn't care if you were Chinese, Khmer or Vietnamese, they killed millions of Cambodians in the name of communism. If they wanted to kill Chinese and Vietnamese, then Ung's family, relatives, and the rest of the Chinese would have not survived because of their 'almond shaped-eyes, porcelain white skin, and thin noses.' The way she distances herself from being Cambodian and stood as a strong and determined Chinese victim who triumphed over the 'flat nose and dark skin' [Cambodian] world irks me. This book does not do Khmer people any justice, but [serves only] to lead those who do not know about Khmer history and people into wrong perceptions and assumptions."
- Vanak Saovadi

We are not engaged in a crusade against the author; our crusade, if it can be described as such, is to expose the truth, so that people may know what the Killing Fields really meant for Cambodians who lived through it. Although Ung's book is sub-entitled "A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers," it is apparent that she neither truly considers herself "a daughter of Cambodia" (except for the purpose of publicity) nor does she with any kind of accuracy "remembers." Unlike the acclaim and support given to the movie "The Killing Fields," many survivors of the Democratic Kampuchea regime find this book inaccurate, distasteful, and insulting. We believe in this case that misinformation is more dangerous than no information. It is sad that a person would distort and sensationalize such a tragic experience for personal gain. It dishonors the memory of the 1.7 million people who died and the legitimate stories of countless others who have and still suffer because of the Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Institute encourages Ms. Ung to respond to these comments and would welcome the opportunity to arrange a public discussion of the book so that she may answer the questions raised in the reviews and analysis.


Many alternative books are available for individuals interested in reading biographies that deal with this period of Cambodian history. We suggest the following:

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