(c) 2005-2007 Oliver Bonten
Oliver's book reviews
This book is the sequel to First They Killed My Father
After I read First They Killed my Father, I couldn't wait to get my hands on the sequel. In particular I hoped to learn more about life in Cambodia during the Vietnamese occupation, when Cambodia was basically forgotten. What I got was something different.
The first book was an account of events during the Khmer Rouge reign and shortly afterwards. From a personal perspective, but factual nevertheless. It reports what happened to the author during this time. The second book is factual as well, but more an account of personal and behavioural facts that gives an insight into the author's psyche and the long process of coping.
The book starts with Loung Ung's arrival in the U.S., and in alternating chapters she reports about her life in the U.S. and that of her sister in Cambodia at approximately the same time. While in the U.S., friendly people help the Ungs to settle, find jobs, accomodate to American life, in Cambodia poverty and danger remain, Khmer Rouge are still abroad, and the Vietnamese are not too helpful either, being busy with the Khmer Rouge.
It becomes slowly clear that for little Loung the accomodation goes a bit faster than for her brother; she meets other kids, has to go to school, and quickly adopts parts of the American life style. But there are backlashes, for example when "The Killing Fields" is shown and the Ungs cannot stand to watch it, and to the reader it becomes clear that Loung starts to dissociate herself from her Cambodian past and family.
The book also tells about the difficulties in communication between the families in Cambodia and the U.S.: because the Vietnamese occupied country was suddenly ostracised, the Ungs used to drive up to Canada to send mail and packages from Canada to Cambodia. It would take weeks, and packages would be pilfered on the way to Cambodia. It took them four years to establish communication, and until 1991, there was no chance to visit.
Another of her brothers escaped from Cambodia to France, but even while she was studying in France, she made no attempts to meet him until he appeared at her doorstep. When her eldest brother finally visits Cambodia, she appears not to be overly interested and refuses to join him for another trip. But in the end she does, and a kind of healing begins.
This is a much more personal book than the first one, and it gives an insight into what happens inside people who live through this kind of nightmares. (Well, nightmares is among what happens to the people ...). The disassociation, however, I see a lot in people who have been brought up in another culture than they were born in ... many find back to their native culture only as adults.
Like in the first book, a set of photographs in the centre enhances the story. I would like to have met the girl with the backpack. It's a pity there can't be a sequel.
More about Cambodia
Film: The Killing Fields
Book: River of Time
Book: Lucky Child
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