First They Killed My Father Summary and Study Guide

Loung Ung

First They Killed My Father

  • 33-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 27 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a high school English teacher with 20 years of experience
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First They Killed My Father Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 33-page guide for “First They Killed My Father” by Loung Ung includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 27 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Survival and Genocide.

Plot Summary

First They Killed My Father is a tear-jerking memoir by Loung Ung, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. She wrote the story as an adult looking back on her childhood years between the ages of five and nine. The story begins with her pleasant life in the Cambodian capital city, Phnom Penh, as the young daughter of a middle class family. Her father worked for the Cambodian government, which allowed her family to live a good life with plenty of food to eat, nice clothes to wear, and quality schools to attend. All of that changed when the Khmer Rouge took over the country.

On a hot mid-April day in 1975, the Khmer Rouge invaded Phnom Penh, forcing the Ungs and many other families to evacuate for fear of being killed. Ung, her parents, and her six siblings grabbed what they could, climbed into their truck, and left the city.  Eventually, the gas ran out and the family had to walk for seven days to reach the home of their uncle in the village of Krang Truop, which was run by the Khmer Rouge. Due to the dangers of living in Krang Truop, the family left for another village, but they were not welcome there either. Finally, in November of 1975, the family settled in the labor camp and village called Ro Leap, where they lived for 18 months as the Khmer Rouge slowly starved and killed many Cambodians, including some of Ung’s family members.

The first Ung to die was Loung’s older sister, Keav who died of food poisoning and dysentery in a filthy infirmary. Keav was taken from her family six months before her death to work in a camp just for teenaged girls. After Keav, Ung’s father is the next to die. In December of 1976, Khmer Rouge soldiers come to the Ung’s hut and ask for help with their truck. They promise he will be back the next day, but he never returns.

Eventually, Ung is taken to another labor camp; this one is filled with strong girls, like Ung. While she is at the girls’ camp, Ung dreams that something happened to her mother. She quickly returns to Ro Leap where she learns that her mother and baby sister, Geak, were killed. This is all too much for Ung, who loses consciousness for three days. After returning to camp, she is punished by the leader. Eventually, the camp is attacked by the Khmer Rouge who claim that the attacks are being committed by the Vietnamese, whom the girls have been taught to fear. When the attacks worsen, the girls are forced to leave, and Ung ends up in an infirmary. There, she coincidentally meets her remaining family.

As the story continues and the family is reunited, their next goal is to get as far away from the Khmer Rouge as possible. Once the family finds safety with Vietnamese and Cambodian friends, they arrange for Ung and her older brother Meng to move to America. Ung and Meng end up in a refugee camp in Thailand, where they live an extremely poor existence until they are sponsored by an American family. After many years living successfully in America, Ung returns to Cambodia to see her remaining family members and reconnect.

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Chapters 1-2