First They Killed My Father is a true story about the Cambodian Holocaust initiated by the Khmer Rough. The main character is the author herself: Loung Ung. Considering that Loung Ung is fifth in a line of seven children, the other main characters in the story are members of her family. The family’s true hell begins in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge evacuates Phnom Phenh. The Ung family is part of the evacuation because they are considered “middle class” which means they are “unclean.” In a situation that sounds similar to the Nazi holocaust, the captured members of the middle class are forced into crowded trucks and transported to rural areas where inhumane treatment and genocide begin.
Through the Ung family’s struggle, we learn about the individual members of the family as important characters. An additional character is Loung’s father: Seng Im Ung. Seng Im Ung becomes associated with the government of Lon Nol; therefore, Seng Im Ung is kidnapped. He is never seen again. Two other characters are Meng Ung and Khouy Ung: two of Loung’s brothers. They are forced to leave the family and work in labor camps. Another important character is Ay Choung Ung, Loung’s mother. Ay Choung Ung is a mom who makes a great sacrifice. Knowing that she has already lost many of her children and her husband, she sends Loung and her brother out on their own so that they can survive. Ay Choung Ung knows that any child who stays with her will surely die. Only Geak (who is only three and, therefore, a minor character) remains with Ay Choung.
Throughout the hell of the Cambodian holocaust, the characters of First They Killed My Father (who are all members of the Ung family) exhibit the admirable qualities of faith, compassion, and integrity.