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First They Killed My Father: Chapter Summary
Transcript of First They Killed My Father: Chapter Summary
In the opening chapter, Loung describes her daily life growing up in Phnom Penh and the city she is raised in. Phnom Penh is a very active city with merchants and shop keepers lining the streets selling fresh foods and oddities. Loung and her family are very privileged to own a large home with a housekeeper and many nice things such as cars, and fancy jewelry. The children are able to go to school and Ma is able to stay home. The novel introduces Loung as a very energetic and curious girl.
The Ung Family
In this chapter, Loung spends time discussing her families personalities and dynamics. She introduces her parents and their backgrounds. She also introduces her brothers; Meng, Khouy, and Kim, and her sisters; Keav, Chou, and Geak. Loung and her family are very privileged to own a large home on the upper floors of their building, with a housekeeper and many nice things such as cars, and fancy jewelry. "In Penom Penh, it seems the more money you have, the more stairs you climb," (Ung 8).The children are able to go to school and Ma is able to stay home. Loungs father is a military policeman and is highly respected.
As the soldiers move into town, the citizens begin to realize that they are not there to celebrate. "It is believed that men who wear their hair long must have something to hide,"( Ung 17). The tone of the novel shifts as whole family's begin to pack up and leave in hopes to escape whatever disaster the soldiers warn them of. Pa knows that the stories the soldiers tell them are lies and prepares the Ung family to leave their old lives behind. Loung is confused by the chaos of the situation and believes the stories the soldiers tell her.
As they evacuate Phnom Penh, they leave behind any luxurious possessions they own and travel for many hours in their truck until their truck can no longer support them. They continue on foot in the dusty heat, only stopping to cook food and sleep. The Ung family is tired and sore from the long journey and conditions that they are not used to. Loung is still confused of why her family is so concerned. Her youth causes her to be naive to the reality of the situation and the dangers her family faces due to their privileged life in Penom Penh.
While the title of the chapter explains the content of what occurs within the chapter, there are key events in the chapter that change Loung's perspective. At a checkpoint along the route, a Khmer Rouge soldier stopped them searched their belongings, questioning them on their background. Pa lies about the families background and they are able to pass through unharmed. The threats of the guns and the execution of the members of the former government forces Loung to understand the danger of the Khmer Rouge. In the chapter Meng says, "Pa a man told me the noise last night was the Khmer Rouge soldiers opening fire on all the people who registered for work. They killed every one of them,"(Ung 33). The stories begin to scare Loung, giving her a new idea of the danger her and her family are in.
After several days of walking, Loung and her family settle in with her Uncle's family in Krang Truop. The lifestyle of an agrarian worker is very different than what she is used too, making it difficult for her to blend in. Loung must now adapt to life with out luxuries or basic comforts. She must learn to sleep on the ground, shower in a stall, go to the bathroom outdoors, and live in a single room wit many people. She notices how the attitude of her parents and syblings has changed. In the chapter she states, "Pa returns late at night looking dirty and tired..I hardly ever sit on his lap anymore,"(Ung 43). She realizes that her life will be very different from then on and begins to pay closer attention to the politics of the situation.
In this chapter it becomes clear how much control the Khmer Rouge has and the cruelties that people are suffering in response. After it is discovered that many people in Krang Truop know the identity of the Ung family,. they are forced to leave and settle else where. The Khmer Rouge set them up to be taken to a camp far from where they are staying. At a waiting station on the trip Loung sees an elderly lady dying at the waiting station with her family around her. "The longer I stare at her the more my skin sweats. I have never seen someone half dead before," (Ung 47). Although Loung has heard about many deaths this is her first experience seeing it first hand. This has a major impact on Loung and her view of the reality of it all.
As the family arrives to the third village of their journey they are not welcomed by the villagers who lived there before the take over. The villagers are agricultural workers with no western influences. This makes the villagers ideal citizens for the Khmer Rouge. The villagers spit and shout at the city people. In the town square, all previous clothes and belongings are taken and burned. All new arrivals are given a set of black clothes, and a list of new terms that they will use when addressing their parents and superiors. Food is rationed and given to each family based on the amount of work the family can provide. The family quickly adapts to life in Ro Leap and works really hard in order to be accepted. No matter how much work they do the food rations still are not enough to keep the family or other families healthy. "Pa is not so thin that his face is no longer the shape of a full moon. His round belly that I once loved to wrap my arms around is caved in," (Ung 64). As the health in the village rapidly decreases, woman are often unable to become pregnant or carry children to term.
Three months into life at Ro Leap, life gets worse. To avoid sending his oldest sons to become Khmer Rouge soldiers, Loung’s father arranges marriages for them. This helps his sons and the women they will marry because the women will not be taken by soldiers. Loung talks about a beautiful village girl, Davi, and how the soldiers take her and other girls for sex and return them home in the mornings. Shortly after the brothers leave, rumors about the Vietnamese began to spread around Ro Leap. The Khmer Rouge take more sons and daughters to fight in the army. One of the teens they take is Keav. This is a painful event for Loung, who spent her childhood looking up to her. The family continues to starve as rations become scarce despite the fact that the family works even harder in the fields. To make matters worse, Kim is fired from his job at the chief’s home, so the family loses out on the extra food he brought each night.
A girl from Keav’s labor camp arrived in Ro Leap to tell the Ungs that Keav is sick, and wants to see them. Only Loung’s mother is able to travel to see Keav. Once the family is finished working, they wait for Ma to return. When she arrives, she tells the family that Keav is going to die that night due to the fact that there are no doctors to help save her. She describes the infirmary and how Keav was in her own mess without anyone helping her. Both parents ask to see Keav, but before they arrive, she dies. After they return to Ro Leap, the parents tell their other children that they were unable to get any of Keav’s things because no one knew where they were. That night, Loung and Chou discuss death and the after life, hoping that Keav isn't brought back in a horrible world, but rather a happy place (99). Loung sunk in her own sadness, so she coped by imagining a beautiful world for Keav. The next morning, the family is unable to mourn for Keav.
Four months after Keav’s death, the Ungs continue to work long hours and starve doing so. The family no longer talks about Keav. They are constantly worrying when soldiers will come for Pa, especially now that their neighbors have been taken. One night, Loung overheard her parents talk about splitting up their children so they will be safe, despite Ma's effort to stop this plan. The next morning, a group of soldiers comes looking for Pa. The family knows he will not return. The following morning, the entire family waited for his return, but he does not. That night, Loung’s mind started racing with thoughts about her father and his death. She has heard horrible stories about mass graves, cracked skulls, and death. She dreams of sending her spirit to her father so she could give him strength before the soldiers murdered him. The following night, she and Chou speak about Pol Pot and her father. Loung promises her sister that she would one day give Pol Pot a “painful, agonizing death” (108). Loung continues to dream about him where her father returns to her and promises to look after her and her mother makes efforts to look after them as well, stealing food from the community.
Ma's Little Monkey
Two years after being forced from their home in Phnom Penh, the Ungs are living in Ro Leap and still starving to death. Kim becomes the man of the house due to the oldest brothers being gone. Near the camp is a cornfield and Kim decides to pick corn for the family, ignoring Ma's warnings. Ma's Loung wanted to tag along, but Ma said she could not. The first night, Kim returned with two full bags of corn, but the second night, he was caught. The soldiers beat him with their feet, fists, and guns until Kim was hurt. They let him go, but only after he promises he would never return.
One month after Kim was beaten for stealing corn, the Khmer increased all the food rations. The Khmer Rouge continued to worry about the possibility of the Vietnamese invading. The Ungs’ neighbors disappeared, leaving an empty hut, and Ma told her children that in order to live, they need to separate. She says to her children to go in opposite directions and to tell people that they are orphans. In order to get her children to leave, she had to be stern, and tell them: “Your Pa is gone now, and I just cannot take care of you kids. I don’t want you here! You are too much work for me! I want you to leave!” (122).After the children leave and split, Chou and Loung find a small camp with small huts. The camp is full of children. The camp is a place for girls who are not capable of working in the rice fields. Each day, they work in the camp, eat their rations, and then listen to false truths.
After a few months in the child camp, the supervisor recognizes that Ung is too strong to be at her camp. The supervisor walks her to the next camp. The children at this camp are training to become young soldiers. During the preeching, some of the girls come out to perform a dance, which Loung is invited to join.Every morning, Loung trains with the dancers and every afternoon, she works in the ponds. She also receives training on using guns and weapons, in case the Vietnamese attack their camp. During her training, the supervisor tells Loung, “Children must be taught to follow orders without hesitation, without question, and to shoot and kill even their traitor parents” (136). Loung thinks to herself that she would never kill her mother as she is filled with more rage against the Angkar. One night, Loung falls asleep and awakes with a start as a girl screamed. The girl tells the adults that she felt a hand grab her through some bushes. The supervisor armed a few of the girls to look for the person.
Gold For Chicken
After seven months away from Ro Leap, the supervisor allows the children a day off and Loung travels to see her mother. While there, Ma told the story of trading ruby earrings for meat so she could feed her daughter. To get meat for Geak, Ma walked to another village to buy chicken from a woman who was known to make trades. After entering the woman’s hut, the woman told her to come back the following day. Unfortunately, the return trip was a trap. A man was in the woman’s hut. He took Ma’s earrings and punched her in the belly. He beat her while she was on the floor in pain. Ma showed the bruises to Loung which only increased her anger.
The Last Gathering
The new camp follows the same pattern as the other camps: plenty of food for a few months and reduced rations for a few more. During the latest low rations period, Loung begins to suffer from painful joints and swelling. After being in too much pain to work, Loung asks for permission to go to the doctor. The long walk, her lack of strength, and the stench cause her to walk right past her mother and family. Since there was no medicine to help with sickness, the family was given sugar along with their daily rations of rice and fish. To help with hunger, Loung and her family members hunt for anything they could eat. After a week of being in the infirmary, Loung becomes stronger and is forced to leave.
The Walls Crumble
Six months after their reunion in the infirmary, Loung’s world falls apart. She wakes up feeling fearful. She has a feeling that something happened to her mother. Along her journey to Ro Leap, she remembers the day her Pa told her that she had the ability to sense things. When she gets to her mother’s hut, her mother and sister are not there, and a neighbor informs her that they are dead. Loung falls apart inside of the hut. She describes her feelings: “My wall crumbles and collapses on top of me. Tears run uncontrollably down my face. My chest compresses, my insides gnaw at me, eating away at my sanity” (160). Thoughts of her young sister’s sad life flash before her eyes and she imagines what happened to her mother and sister during their last moments with the soldiers. She leaves Ro Leap, but doesn’t remember how she got back to her camp.
The Youn Invasion
The chapter opens with the supervisor, Met Bong, pacing and telling the girls that the Vietnamese have finally attacked. That night, the children can’t sleep because of the loud explosions. One of the bombs blows up in Loung’s hut. It kills some of the girls. Loung runs away to find Chou; not only does she find Chou, but also finds Kim. The three siblings grab what they can and join a large crowd of people. They listen to the discussions about Pol Pot and scavenge for food as they walk. Eventually, they learn that the crowd is walking toward Pursat City, and the siblings hope that their other two brothers, Meng and Khouy, will be there. As soon as the crowd reaches Pursat City, they are greeted by the Vietnamese. Instead of them killing the Cambodian, like the Khmer said the Vietnamese would, they provided food, shelter, and protection. The siblings now search for a new foster family.
The First Foster Family
A week after their arrival in Pursat City, a family agrees to take the three in. One afternoon, Chou, Loung, and a friend named Pithy are out collecting water when a Vietnamese soldier approaches them. Loung goes with the soldier, leaving the other two girls behind. The soldier attempts to rape her, taking down his pants and pulling hers down. Loung fights him off, kicking at the man, screaming until she could kick him in the groin and running away as fast as she could. She reaches her friend and they run back to the camp. Her caretakers tell her she will amount to nothing, so Ung replies confidently, “No, you’re wrong. I’m going to be somebody great” (182).
A month after living with the family, Loung hates them, but she remains with them for safety. The Khmer Rouge continue to close in on the refugee camp, but everyone has difficulty determining who is Khmer because they wear the same black clothes as the refugees. One afternoon, bullets enter the camp, and into the hut where Loung is staying. The bullets hit the grandmother of the family that was caring for the Ungs. The grandmother is taken to the infirmary, where Loung is ordered to bring her food. They soon decide to the leave the family. The Ungs move in with another family whom are much more nice. They share in the chores and help take care of the family’s children. During their time with the new family, people in Pursat City start wearing colorful clothing.While Loung was searching for firewood one day, she comes across a corpse of a Khmer soldier; just a few days later, she comes across another. Strangely, the Ung children all develop “red eye disease” (193) which supposedly comes from looking at dead bodies. The mother of their new foster family shames them for their red eyes.
Khmer Rogue Attack
In February of 1979, the Khmer soldiers attack Pursat City. The Ungs’ foster father guides his family and the Ungs across a river to an abandoned warehouse. Unfortunately, the Khmer attack the warehouse and several people inside die, including Ung’s friend Pithy. Kim, Chou, and Loung run as fast as they could, but Kim shouts that he left their mother’s backpack behind, so Loung runs back to get it. Two months later, Loung and her siblings still reside with the foster family. Kim decides it is time to look for Meng and Khouy in another Vietnamese camp. It does not take him long to find them and bring them back. With the remaining members of her family together, Ung finally feels safe and secure. The older brothers share their want to search for their remaining aunts and uncles in Bat Deng, their mother’s hometown. The only problem is that Bat Deng is far away and many of the areas along the way are still controlled by Khmer soldiers
The Vietnamese capture a Khmer soldier and the people of refugee camp want revenge with a public execution. Loung goes, but Chou will have none of it. She makes her way to the front of the circle of refugees surrounding the Khmer soldier. Some of the refugees announce that they want volunteers for the actual killing. Several women volunteer for the job, but the job goes to an old woman who lost her children and grandchildren to the Khmer soldiers. She is given a hammer that she uses to bust the soldier’s skull. The old woman then gives the hammer to a younger woman who continues smashing into the soldier. Once he was dead, people return to their home, but Loung and some other children stay to see what would happen to the body.
Back to Bat Deng
Kim, Chou, and Loung leave for their journey. This journey away from Pursat City makes Loung think about their first journey four years ago when they left their home. She thinks about how weak she was, crying and whining to her father and how much she has changed, especially how her heart has hardened. After several days, Loung finally sees her Uncle Leang, who meets them on the road with rice cakes. Then Loung watches her aunt do laundry, a sight that she had not seen in a long time. The family then tells their story as the uncle comments that their mother only needed “two more months, just two more months, and she would have made it” (213). After living in Bat Deng for a few months, one of Loung’s aunts appears, looking for Meng. Her message is that many Cambodians were leaving for Vietnam and Thailand. Meng decides that the he and Loung would be the two to leave Cambodia first. The following morning, brother and sister get on a single bike and leave for Vietnam.
From Cambodia to Vietnam
Meng and Loung arrive in Phnom Penh, their hometown, early in the chapter. Upon arrival, Meng sells his boat and the pair get into a small fisherman's boat. They ride in it all the way to Vietnam, hiding under a plastic tarp covered with fish. Once they leave the boat, they get into a bus and ride to Saigon. The first thing Loung notices in Saigon is how calm and collected everyone is. The women wear beautiful clothes and laugh. While in Saigon, they prepare for their trip by boat to Thailand. Eventually, the right time arrives and the pair get into a small 30-foot boat that is bottom heavy with refugees traveling to Thailand. On the third day, pirates overtake the boat and the loot a small Buddha from Loung. Fortunately, the pirates are just thieves, so after they loot the boat, they direct it on to Thailand and the Lam Sing Refugee Camp.
Lam Sing Refugee Camp
The final chapter of the book takes place in February 1980, when Meng and Loung have to fill out paperwork to stay in the refugee camp in Thailand. Every refugee needs a sponsoring family before they can leave Thailand for America. Loung comments on how “camp consists of standing in line after another for our food and water rations” (229). After five years, Meng and Loung are willing to do whatever it takes to make their lives happy. Just a few short months after arriving in the camp, they find out they have been accepted to go to America, specifically, to Vermont. The night before they leave, Loung has a dream about her father. In their short conversation, she tells him she misses him and he says he will find her. The next morning, “Heartened by my dream of Pa, I walk onto the aircraft” (233).
The Ungs arrive in a mountain village where the majority of the villagers are new arrivals. Their first night in the village, Loung and her sisters become ill with a fever and stomach aches. Since there are not any doctors, Loung’s family has to help her get well. Throughout their time in Anlungthmor, the men catch some animals, which are treats for the family. While they are there, the rainy season comes and the land floods. The children do have some fun playing in the mud, but they are still hungry. Eventually, a pair of rabbits float by. Pa catches the rabbits, but because the land is so wet, they cannot cook it, so they eat the rabbit raw. Once the rainy season ends, the villagers began to panic because the new people are eating too much food and the Khmer Rouge has begun killing educated, city people. The Ungs repeat their process of leaving early in the morning and moving to a new village, this time to Ro Leap.