First They Killed My Father

First They Killed My Father Chapter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Meng and Loung pass through Phnom Penh, where the streets are full of holes and many buildings have been destroyed. Tents are all over the city now, as many farmers have had to leave the countryside because it is full of landmines. Meng says he will take Loung to see their old apartment, though there are no property documents from before the takeover and someone else is now living there. He then sells his bike to pay for passage along the Mekong River on a fisherman’s boat, and Loung realizes he forget about the apartment; she decides she is ready to leave everything behind regardless.
Loung’s description of the vibrant, lively Phnom Penh before the takeover contrasts with its state of destruction after only four years. The place she once called home does not belong to her anymore, and Loung accepts that if she wants to heal, she cannot hold onto Cambodia any longer.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
The fisherman hides Meng and Loung under a tarp covered with fish as they enter Vietnam. They then get on a bus to Saigon, where Loung notes that people walk around and laugh without fear as they once did in Phnom Penh. For two months they live in a one-bedroom apartment with Eang’s parents, who speak Vietnamese and are kind to Meng and Loung. Eang takes Loung to the salon for a perm. That night Loung dreams about Keav.
The perm is Loung’s first hairstyle after the Khmer Rouge made her—and everyone else—cut their hair into the same style. As such, it is a step towards reclaiming her individuality. Keav loved makeup and fashion, which is why the experience of going to the hairdresser makes Loung think of her sister.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Meng teaches Loung about America and also says she must no longer call Vietnamese people “youns,” because it is considered derogatory. Both begin to gain weight. In December they move in with Eang’s sisters, who live in floating houseboats on the Mekong. Loung is jealous and thinks of Chou as she sees other young girls play together. In order not to arouse suspicion, Meng and Loung are not allowed to socialize or speak anything other than Vietnamese. After three quiet months, they begin their journey to Thailand.
Meng and Loung are beginning to heal from their time under the Khmer Rouge. Loung, who has been politically ignorant for much of the book, also begins to learn more about the world around her. Meng becomes more of a father figure for Loung, while Loung reiterates the deep connection she feels with Chou.
Themes
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
They are transferred to a larger boat with nearly one hundred other people. The crew insist people stay below deck, where the air is stale and many get seasick. The crew takes a liking to Loung and allows her on deck more than the others. The journey is dangerous. On the third day of they run into a pirate ship, but Loung and Meng have prepared by hiding their bits of gold inside candies; other passengers swallowed their gemstones or sewed them into the lining of their clothes. Fearing rape, women smear themselves with charcoal and scoop vomit into their hair.
Loung is subjected to yet more horror and danger, despite being out of the reach of the Khmer Rouge. The women’s fear of rape by pirates again echoes the book’s focus on the ways misogyny is embedded across many societies, regardless of who is in power.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Women’s Treatment in Times of War Theme Icon
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The pirates seem friendly, however, and invite everyone aboard for rice and fish. Before letting the passengers return, everyone must line up and give them something. Eang gives Loung Pa’s jade Buddha pendant so she will have something to give them. The pirates ransack the small boat as well, but then give the captain directions to the Thai refugee camp, wish the group luck, and wave goodbye. Hours later, they arrive at the Lam Sing Refugee camp.
The fact that Loung must give up Pa’s pendant—one of her father’s only remaining possessions—represents the continued sacrifice she must make in order to survive. At the same time, it’s ironic that the pirates—who are openly outlaws and criminals—are far more humane than the “lawful” government and soldiers of the Khmer Rouge.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon