In her first book, the best-selling First They Killed My Father, Loung Ung recalled her Cambodian childhood under the violent reign of the Khmer Rouge army. As told in Lucky Child, the second chapter in her story is no less powerful or painful. She begins on her first day in the United States after fleeing Cambodia with her eldest brother and his wife. Ung left behind her other beloved siblings, as well as the ghosts of her parents and two sisters who were slaughtered by Pol Pot's soldiers.
Everything about America is strange to the young girl the language, the bland food, the television programs. Ung yearns to make friends in her new school, but her fellow students mistake her poor English for stupidity, so she spends recess alone, devouring junk food and warding off thoughts of the time in her not-so-distant past when she nearly starved. While Ung is happy to be away from the landmines and the aftermath of Pol Pot's brutal regime, the guilt of leaving her family behind seeps in, as do vicious memories of the brutality she witnessed.
Ung's story is even more potent because she also tells the story of her sister, Chou, who remained behind in a rural Cambodian village. While Ung learns the ways of an American girl circa 1980, Chou spends her days doing backbreaking chores and helping raise her nieces and nephews. She cannot attend school and must wait for her family to arrange a marriage for her. The book culminates with the sisters' reunion more than a decade later, a scene touching in its honest awkwardness and uncertainty.
Lucky Child is a painful yet lyrical story of the lengths to which one family will go to protect its own. Ung offers a devastating look at the enormous global effects of political oppression. Yet for all the sadness in her personal story, Lucky Child is also a soaring tale of human spirit. While no one would wish for the Ungs' painful history, one can only hope for a family filled with such generosity and strength. Amy Scribner writes from Olympia, Washington.