First They Killed My Father

First They Killed My Father Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Explosions erupt all around the foster family’s hut as the Khmer Rouge attack. The second foster father hurriedly leads everyone across the river, where they take shelter in an abandoned warehouse along with many other villagers. Loung sees Pithy and her family and motions for them to sit next to her. Everyone spends a restless night in the shelter.
The Khmer Rouge is not yet neutralized as a threat, and the possibility of imminent death is always around the corner for the Ungs.
Themes
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The next morning, a rocket hits the warehouse. Loung reaches for Pithy’s hand only to find that her skull has been smashed in, creating a gruesome scene of blood and bits of brain matter. Panicked, Loung runs with Kim and Chou out of the shelter. Realizing Kim has left the backpack with their things, Loung rushes back and finds Pithy’s mother, who is also injured, cradling her daughter’s dead body. Pithy’s brother says the Khmer Rouge are crossing the river. Loung grabs the backpack, ignores the cries for help around her, and rushes back to her siblings. They run as Khmer Rouge bullets fly past, killing people all around them. The siblings take shelter behind a remnant of a cement wall, where they are so scared they do not realize they have disturbed a hornet’s nest and are covered in stings.
Loung does not shy from describing the extreme brutality of the Khmer Rouge. Pithy’s death is gory and horrifying, and, considering she was lying next to Loung, underscores the continued fragility of life in this world. As in her child soldier camp in the wake of the Vietnamese attack, Loung must again make the difficult decision to leave those in need behind for her own survival. The fact that she, Kim, and Chou do not even notice that they have stumbled into a hornet’s nest further establishes how fear can blind one to any thought other than survival.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
When the bombing and gunfire stop, the siblings find their foster family near the Youn camp. Their second foster father says the Youns have taken back the village, but the Khmer Rouge left a horrific scene behind. Stories spread about them tossing victims’ heads through the streets, spearing babies with bayonets, and eating their victims’ livers for strength. When they return to the village, Loung sees blood everywhere and worries about stepping on a landmine, which the Khmer Rouge often leave behind after an attack. Loung sees Pithy’s brother, who is kind to her one day but the next screams at her to get away before slumping to the ground in tears; she understands that “he is alone now too.”
Loung’s graphic descriptions of the chaos left behind by the Khmer Rouge highlight the group’s barbaric cruelty. She again mentions landmines, which will fuel her advocacy later in life. Given the importance of family established by the story, it is no wonder that Pithy’s brother has been unmoored by grief over his sister’s death.
Themes
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
When Kim goes to the Youn camp to work each day he asks if anyone has heard anything about Meng or Khouy. One day he returns with Meng beside him, who takes the three younger siblings away from their foster family. Though Meng looks weathered and tired, Loung still sees Meng as he was in Phnom Penh. He leads them to the tents where has been living with Khouy, whose wife ran off during the Youn invasion, ostensibly to find her own surviving family members. Soon Khouy returns to the tents, looking strong but hardened. He places his hand on Loung’s head just as Pa used to do.
This is a moment of joy and catharsis for Loung, who finally has someone to take care of her again. However changed they may have been by the Khmer Rouge, the Ungs are more deeply bonded to one another than ever before. Though Loung feared Khouy back in Phnom Penh, for example, his actions here further solidify him as a caring, paternal figure in her life.
Themes
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
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That night Meng and Khouy tell their story. When the Youn invasion happened, they were in a labor camp. Unable to escape, the Khmer Rouge forced them to be porters and to come with them into the jungle, closer and closer to an area still under Khmer Rouge control. They were able to escape one night on a makeshift raft of logs, and in the morning reached Pursat City. Loung feels safe now that she is reunited with her brothers. Meng says they will gather supplies and then making the risky journey to their uncles’ village, during which they may have to pass through Khmer Rouge-controlled land.
Like Loung, Meng and Khouy did whatever they had to in order to survive—and to return to their family. With Pa gone, Meng becomes the patriarch of the family. Their ordeal is not over yet, however, and the chapter ends with a sense of tension as they contemplate the risky journey ahead.
Themes
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon