history

READ THE WORLD – Tuvalu: Tuvalu – A History edited by Hugh Laracy

First off as there were too many names for the title of this post, here are all the people who wrote chapters for this book: Simati Faaniu, Vinaka Ielemia, Taula Isako, Tito Isala, Reverend Laumua Kofe, Nofoaiga Lafita, Pusineli Lafai, Dr Kalaaki Laupepa, Nalu Nia, Talakatoa O’Brien, Sotaga Pape, Laloniu Samelu, Enele Sapoaga, Pasoni Taafaki, Melei Telavi, Noatia Penitala Teo and Vaieli Tinilau.

Tuvalu – A History is a history of Tuvalu, written by Tuvaluans. It’s a really interesting and accessible book as it’s not just the history and politics of the country, but it also spends time talking about the culture and the way Tuvaluans lives have – or haven’t – changed across the generations.

Tuvalu – A History is kind of a book of two halves with the first being more about the island’s origins, culture and traditions while the latter half is more about the history, politics and international relations. I liked both parts of the book and I think they complimented each other. Having the knowledge of the culture of the country and its people made the historical developments more understandable. There’s also photographs, maps and family trees which were all pretty cool too.

The first half was more of a narrative with the stories passed down the generations that explain how each of the islands that make up Tuvalu were formed and populated. Each of the eight islands that make up Tuvalu had their own story and some were related to each other – though technically there’s nine islands but one isn’t inhabited. I liked reading those stories as they’re like a snapshot of culture and history and of how people can explain the unexplainable.

The second half is interesting because as Tuvalu is such a small and remote country, naturally it took time before white Europeans “discovered” it and even when they did “discover” it and there’s written accounts about things, there’s also evidence that Europeans must’ve been there earlier but when and how is a mystery. For instance, there’s Christian Bibles on some of the islands with people know a few hymns in English but the people who must’ve taught them that or given them the Bible aren’t there. It’s kind of amusing how (for better or worse) Christianity manages to get everywhere in the world no matter how remote. Naturally when some Europeans arrive it’s to trick and take the Tuvaluans away from home to become slaves, forced to work in mines in countries like Peru. It’s horrifying to read how the population of an island went from almost 800 to about 170 in ten years because of these slavers.

Something that I hadn’t really considered before my Read the World Project was how big world events affected the countries we don’t tend to learn about in school. Sure, the clue is in the name, but it’s always interesting and insightful to see World War Two from other countries point of view – especially non-European ones as that was the focus for my schooling in the UK. It turns out that Tuvalu became an outpost for Americans as they fought the Japanese and while some thing’s they did had a positive effect on the country – like cutting down a load of coconut trees to make an airstrip – others weren’t so much, like the Americans leaving a load of unexploded munitions around so children could play with it.

Tuvalu – A History was written and published in the early 1980s so naturally the history/politics side of things finishes there. I’d love to learn more about Tuvalu and see if/how life on the islands have changed over the last 40 years. I guess there’s a good chance they’d be suffering the affects of climate change as Tuvalu is not far from the Marshall Islands and the poetry I read for that country touched on how climate change was affecting them. I think I’ve used the word “interesting” a lot here but that’s how I found Tuvalu – A History, it’s very readable and the language used is simple but engaging and I read it in one sitting because I found it so interesting. The fact it’s under 200 pages probably helped a bit too.

READ THE WORLD – Armenia: Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1918 by Grigoris Balakian

Translated by Peter Balakian and Aris Sevag.

On April 24, 1915, the priest Grigoris Balakian was arrested along with some 250 other intellectuals and leaders of Constantinople’s Armenian community. It was the beginning of the Ottoman Turkish government’s systematic attempt to eliminate the Armenian people from Turkey; it was a campaign that continued through World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, by which time more than a million Armenians had been annihilated and expunged from their historic homeland. For Grigoris Balakian, himself condemned, it was also the beginning of a four-year ordeal during which he would bear witness to a seemingly endless caravan of blood.

The Armenian genocide isn’t something I’d even heard of before finding this book for my Read the World Project. While I learnt about WWI in school, it was naturally focused on Britain’s involvement and little time was spent on what other people and countries that weren’t part of the main Allied forces or Central powers were going through. In fact, I don’t think I even learnt that Turkey was allied with Germany in WWI, Austria-Hungary and Germany were the ones we learnt about.

Naturally based on the subject matter Armenian Golgotha is a very intense and bleak read. Reading about what the Armenian people went through, from intellectuals to the everyday person, was very hard at times. Photos were included throughout the book which were hard to look at.

It’s wrong to presume but somehow I thought that the Armenians would be killed as quickly as possible, but that was not the case. Women were raped, people starved to death or faced countless diseases, and when hundreds of people were murdered at once, it wasn’t quick. A quote that stuck with me was from a Turkish soldier, describing how people were massacred: “It’s wartime, and bullets are expensive. So, people grabbed whatever they could from their villages – axes, hatchets, scythes, sickles, clubs, hoes, pickaxes, shovels – and they did the killing accordingly.”

The way that Balakian recounts the horrors he witnessed treads a fine line between clinical and emotional. Armenian Golgotha is full of facts and insights into the political, historical, and cultural context of the genocide which is very interesting and is – unfortunately – a reference point to other atrocities that have happened since. While Balakian never shies away from what happened it’s clear to see how his experience affected him. How the suffering he saw and experienced shaped him, and how he was still able to trust those who had been ordered to hate him and his people. A few brave Turks, who, with some of their German allies working for the Baghdad Railway were one of the many people who helped Balakian escape, showing while it’s easy to tar a group of people with the same brush, there are those who are willing to resist terrible orders.

That was one of the many interesting things in Armenian Golgotha, Balakian was often incredulous that his fellow Armenians would trust what the Turkish government was saying or promising, and the same goes for a lot of Turkish police and military, after what they’d been through. But there was still the odd person, especially those far enough away from the governments influence that may be willing to help.

Armenian Golgotha is an important account of a tragedy that I knew nothing of. I’ve learnt a lot from this memoir and the time spent on explaining historical or political contexts to certain situations was very helpful. It’s a tough read but also a compelling one.

READ THE WORLD – Liechtenstein: The State in the Third Millennium by Hans-Adam II, The Reigning Prince of Liechtenstein

The State in the Third Millennium analyses the forces that have shaped human history in the past and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future. These include religions, ideologies, military technology and economics. Prince Hans-Adam explores ways to make the traditional democratic constitutional state both more democratic and more efficient. He also discusses strategies on how to realise worldwide the modern democratic constitutional state in the third millennium. He observes that citizens should no longer be viewed as servants of the state, but rather that states be converted into benevolent service companies which serve the people as their customers.

I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read a non-fiction book that wasn’t a memoir and was instead an in-depth look at a specific topic. Over the years as I’ve become more aware of the politics of my own country, the UK, and international politics I’ve had my own ideas of what I think makes a society or country work and what doesn’t so reading about what the monarch of one of the world’s smallest country’s thinks about this was super interesting. The State in the Third Millennium was written in a really simple and accessible way. Some big ideas are talked about and it covers everything from politics, history, religion, monarchies, and economics but I was never really lost.

I did prefer the first half of the book that was more about the history side of things and how historical examples of different states can guide us on how states succeed and fail today. It gives you the context for the latter half of the book which is the Prince’s suggestions as to what would make a successful state in the current millennium. The latter half was also more of the economics side of things which while still interesting, wasn’t the sort of thing I’m naturally interested so some of those ideas weren’t as easy for me to grasp and some I wasn’t sure I agreed with.

Out of all the books I’ve read for my Read the World Project I’d never have thought a book by the Prince of Liechtenstein would be one of the ones that really made me want to visit the country it’s about – but it did! It often uses Liechtenstein as an example for the various ways a state can be run and learning about how such a small country functions in relation to the rest of Europe and the World was fascinating. Also, how their monarchy work was especially interesting as it seemed like the people have a very different relationship to their royalty to what we do in the UK do to the British Royal Family. It’s like in Liechtenstein they’re not put on a pedestal and they’re a much more modern monarchy compared to the British one and that’s worked in their favour. I think the British monarchy could learn a lot about adapting to the modern world from the Liechtenstein monarchy but I’d doubt they (and the public/press reaction to them) would change any time soon.

I feel like I’ve used the word “interesting” a lot here but it’s true, I did find The State in the Third Millennium very interesting and very readable. It proposes interesting ideas about the future of countries depending how they’re run and provides specific examples of how different systems work, or don’t, depending on the country and the structure they’re built on. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD Timor-Leste: From Timor-Leste to Australia: Seven Families, Three Generations Tell Their Stories edited by Jan Tresize

A collection of stories and poems from seven families who recount their lives in Timor-Leste and how events like the Japanese invasion during WWII, being a Portuguese colony for almost 500 years, civil war between different political parties once Timor-Leste is decolonised, Indonesia invading, and finally the country gaining its independence after the people vote for it in a referendum in 1999.

Like many countries I’ve read about in my Read the World Project, Timor-Leste is one that I didn’t know anything about so From Timor-Leste to Australia was a real eye-opening and informative read. For each of the seven families there’s at least two people telling their story; sometimes their siblings, or more commonly it’s a parent and then a child. That way the reader can see how these huge events affected different generations as sometime the children were ten years old or younger when they were forced to flee their homes and move to countries far from home so for some it seemed like an adventure and the realities on their situation was lost on them.

Having members of seven different families share their experience is a good way to get a broad idea of what happened to the Timorese people. Some families were wealthier or had connections to the government while others were poor and had little support, but often they all ended up in similar situations, running from their homes and uncertain of what the future held. Those who stayed in Timor-Leste throughout the Indonesian invasion naturally had different experiences to those who managed to get to other countries. So many people still wanted to get back to their home country though, and how some of these people described what they feel is their nationality was interesting. Some now are Australian residents but feel more Portuguese because they spent their formative years there, others feel Timorese first and foremost but still feel at home in Australia or Portugal.

It was interesting to see how these families got displaced with some being separated by loved ones for years and how they adapted to their new countries. One family was in Mozambique for a time as that was also a former Portuguese colony before the revolution there forced them to flee to Portugal. A lot of the families ended up in Portugal for years, sometimes over a decade or more. This was because Timor-Leste was a form Portuguese colony and some of the families had Portuguese parents or grandparents so had connections in the country that could vouch for them. Others ended up there as it was where was deemed to be safest, living in refugee camps for years.

By the end of each of the families’ stories, most of them had ended up settled in Australia, where communities of Timorese people had begun to thrive. This was due to the Australians fighting against the Japanese in WWII and Timorese people would often hide and protect Australian soldiers when the country was occupied by the Japanese.

From Timor-Leste to Australia was quite a sad read at times as so many people in these families were imprisoned, killed, or separated from loved ones for years. People wen through such hardships and nearly every time it seemed like things would get better for the Timorese, something else would happen. The relief and joy when the people of Timor-Leste successfully voted for their country’s independence was palpable in every family member’s recollection. But the resilience of these people and how families managed to stay connected even across oceans was impressive – especially as lot of this happened from around 1942-1999, a time where phones and technology to keep in touch were not how it is today.

K is for King Leopold’s Ghost (2006)

Documentary about the history of the Congo and how the greedy and incredibly ruthless King Leopold II of Belgium turned a vast country into his private estate from 1885-1908. How he plundered the land and caused countless victims; and how his lasting impact is still felt in the country as international powers and corporations fight to take and profit from the Congo’s many resources.

I knew little of the history of the Congo before watching King Leopold’s Ghost, all I really knew was that King Leopold II wasn’t a good person but what his crimes actually were, I had no idea. I presumed it was to do with slavery and taking the country’s resources (like most European nations did with countries in Africa) but the extent to which he took over the country and had the people enslaved – while running a PR campaign saying he was doing no such thing – was incredible. What’s also shocking is that King Leopold II never even went to the Congo but still caused so much damage that had a knock-on effect for decades.

King Leopold’s Ghost is a really interesting but hard-hitting documentary that doesn’t shy away from the horrors of colonial rule. It’s narrated by Don Cheadle which was an excellent choice as you can often hear the barely contained anger and disgust over what he’s explaining. It includes photos, videos, interviews with historians, and extracts from various people’s diaries and letters including King Leopold II, explorer Henry Morton Stanley, and writer Joseph Conrad.

I liked how King Leopold’s Ghost incorporated what other nations were doing at the same time as what was happening in the Congo. I find it difficult to understand how close certain historic events were to one another so this added extra context. For example, by the time King Leopold was getting involved in the Congo and stealing the land off its people and forcing them to work for him, Britain had stopped being involved with the slave trade. While Britain obviously has its own terrible colonial history, I found it interesting that it had moved away from the slave trade while Belgium was only just getting started.

One of the stats that really shocked me, is that it was estimated that in 40 years from the start of King Leopold’s influence in the Congo, half the population had died – which was 10 million people. And that’s just an estimate. Records of the hangings and killings weren’t kept by the Belgium people who were working out there and some weren’t even really aware of what they were out there for. King Leopold and Belgium’s atrocities have been covered up so that it’s only fairly recently that both Belgians and the Congolese have been taught about these things in schools. In school textbooks in the 1940s-1960s, King Leopold and his involvement in the Congo is framed as a good thing and he helped the people.

King Leopold’s Ghost goes from the nineteenth century to the early 2000s and shows how even when the Congo is supposed to be independent and has elected someone the people want, the Belgian and American secret services will protect their interests, to the detriment of the Congolese.

It’s disappointing but not surprising that still today so many other countries and international corporations have a vested interest in the Congo due to all of its resources. Uranium, ivory, gold, diamonds, coffee, and more are valuable commodities but few Congolese people actual benefit from the sale of it.

King Leopold’s Ghost is a really interesting and comprehensive guide to the history of the Congo and how what King Leopold put in place in the late 1800s, is still having a negative affect on the country and its people today. It’s a great documentary if you have little to know knowledge of the country and its history as it explains everything clearly and draws the links between various people, countries and events without being condescending to the audience. 5/5.

G is for The Good Shepherd (2006)

Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) loves and believes in America and will sacrifice everything to protect it, but as one of the covert founders of the CIA, Edward’s youthful idealism is slowly eroded by his growing suspicion of everyone around him.

The Good Shepherd is Robert De Niro’s sophomore film and it sure is a well-directed film and De Niro has an eye for detail that’s impressive. However, good direction doesn’t necessarily make an interesting film.

The Good Shepherd is set in the 1960s as Edward looks for a mole inside the CIA but there’s a lot of flashbacks to his father’s death, his student days, and how he’s recruited and works in counter intelligence in Europe during the Second World War. So, while The Good Shepherd is framed as the origins of the CIA, it’s more about Edward’s life and how he’s involved with various elements of the CIA and historical events. I had to google to see if Edward was a real person and he’s not but apparently the character is loosely based on a man called James Jesus Angleton who was chief of counterintelligence in the CIA from 1954-1974.

Angelina Jolie plays Clover, Edward’s wife, and she’s given the thankless task of being the typical dutiful wife at home that’s kept in the dark about everything her husband does. It was pretty jarring having Eddie Redmayne play their son in the 1960s. Considering Jolie is only six years older than him and Damon is 11 years older than him, it looks weird every time the three of them are on screen together as he looks too old/too close to their own ages to be their university-aged son.

The Good Shepherd is juggling a few things with Edward’s life story, family drama and life in the CIA, but it doesn’t really make any of them particularly interesting. In fact, for a so-called spy thriller, it actually becomes quite tedious. The hunt for the mole storyline has a few decent moments and Michael Gabon as Edward’s university professor and mentor is one of the most engaging characters, but overall, it’s not a film that really grabbed my attention for its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Chad: Told by Starlight in Chad by Joseph Brahim Seid

Translated by Karen Haire Hoenig.

This very short book, it’s less than 80 pages, contains fourteen short stories.

I found the experience of reading Told by Starlight in Chad really interesting. The writing style is simple and because the stories are the kind that tell the history of a place or a people or are like a fable, even though they weren’t stories I knew, the beats were often familiar. They’re the sort of stories that could’ve been told for generations verbally before being written down as many of them contain some sort of moral or lesson.

There are stories to do with religion, creation, and vengeful gods. There are stories that seem to be based on real historical events – I had to do some googling as there were names of cities and regions of Chad mentioned, how they were created or who ruled them, and they weren’t names I was familiar with. I learnt about the Wadai Empire thanks to this book. An area to the east of Lake Chad that covered present-day Chad and the Central African Republic that was ruled by a sultan in the seventeenth century.

A lot of the stories have an almost fairy-tale quality to them. There are wicked stepmothers, talking animals, giants, kings and princesses. Some stories are sad but most end happily or with those who have suffered getting some sort of justice.

Told by Starlight in Chad is a collection of stories that are like folktales and I found them very easy to read. I also found it interesting to see how while the stories weren’t ones I knew, the kinds of messages they had were ones I learnt from different stories growing up. So while the narrative was different, the morals are universal.

READ THE WORLD – Belarus: The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II by Svetlana Alexievich

Translated by Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear. Narrated by Yelena Shmulenson and Julia Emelin.

Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of women to get their first-hand accounts of their experiences in the Second World War. What made them want to fight and what they did – whether that was on the front lines, on the home front or in occupied territories.

Being born and raised in the UK, when it came to learning about the First and Second World War, what British soldiers went through and how the wars affected the British people was the main focus. I did learn about the Allies and how Russia played a big part in the success of both conflicts but never really knew anything about the people on the front lines there.

While most of what I learnt about British Women during WWII was that they worked on the farms or in factories, or maybe became nurses or radio operators in Europe but there was definitely more of a focus on what British women did on British soil.

The women from the Soviet Union, whether they were Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Russian, or whoever were on the front lines. There’s accounts from women in the typical roles like nurses, surgeons and radio operators but then there’s women who were snipers, pilots, anti-aircraft gunners, soldiers. They all had different ranks from privates to lieutenants and many of them were awarded medals and honours for their service. And the majority of these women joined up when they were teenagers, some as young as fourteen but most were between the ages of sixteen to twenty-one during the war. It’s hard to comprehend what these women saw and experienced and how it shaped their lives.

The Unwomanly Face of War is a hard book to get through as it really is often harrowing. These women tell their stories so matter-of-factly even when it concerns dead bodies and men trapped inside a burning tanks. I think listening to it on audio helped as it was easier to take a breather and pull myself out of that dark headspace.

While naturally these women’s accounts were the main focus, I did like how Alexievich inserted a little backstory every now and then as to how she found these women to interview or what the experience was like listening to them talk. I especially found it interesting how she noted that the way these women talked about their experience differed when there was a man in the room. If their husband was there, it was like they didn’t feel as free to talk about things – even if he also fought and had seen and done similar things. I think it’s because these stories are often about how the woman felt in these situations, and some of the things talked about were mundane like how there was no lady’s underwear or boots in the army to begin with and the problems that came with that.

Another thing that’s talked about is love, whether these women found love before, during or after the war and how the war affected them and their relationships. The fact that after the war some men refused to date or marry a young woman who had been at the front, who had fought for her country, because it was seen as unseemly or unladylike was infuriating. Especially as often during the war it seemed like male soldiers treated their female counterparts with respect.

I learnt a lot from The Unwomanly Face of War. I was almost constantly in awe of these women, how they were just teenagers or young women at the time and the things they fought through, is so impressive. I liked how the accounts sometimes contradicted each other, in the sense that it’s clear that while all these women experienced the war, they didn’t experience it or feel about the enemy the same way. Some pitied the fascist soldiers they had to treat while others despised them. It showed how complicated human emotions are and how sometimes in wartime not everything is easy to compartmentalise.

While The Unwomanly Face of War is a tough read, I think it’s an important one. I learnt so much and the fact that it’s an unflinching look at what so many women went through and of the war as a whole makes it more impactful. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Kazakhstan: The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov

Translated by Jan Butler and edited by Anthony Gardner.

The story of Mukhamet Shayakhmetov from childhood to his early twenties as he grows up under Stalin’s rule and how the collectivisation of agriculture forever changed his peoples’ nomadic lifestyle and caused a famine that killed over a million Kazakhs.

The Silent Steppe is the kind of historical memoir that’s written in a way that’s pretty easy to read and easy to get engrossed in. It’s not necessarily a literary masterpiece but it manages to capture so many emotions so well and it’s a really interesting insight into a time and a culture I knew nothing about. The Silent Steppe is split into three parts: “Class Enemy” which focuses on what the nomadic life was like, how it was forced to change, and how Shayakhmetov’s father was branded a “kulak” (a well-off peasant and therefore an enemy of the people) and imprisoned, “Famine” which covers the 1932-34 famine, the build up to the disaster and how eventually things started getting a bit better, and “War” when Shayakhmetov was a young man and joined the Red Army to fight in World War Two.

Shayakhmetov was born in 1922 and for his first seven years or so his life was normal, helping his father to look after the animals, travelling hundreds of miles with the rest of the family and the village as the seasons turned. Obviously a life not without hardships but positively idyllic compared to what followed.

What The Silent Steppe does well is not shy away from the horrors of what Shayakhmetov experienced. From the age of eight he was having to travel for dozens or even hundreds miles on his own in search of news of his father, or to learn about other family member. He had to do so much at such a young age as his mother either had to stay at home to look after his siblings or to find work so they could eat. The famine and its effects on him, his family and the people is described in vivid detail and it’s often unsettling. Shayakhmetov combines the personal with the factual almost seamlessly as he gives facts and figures on how the collective farms worked (or more often didn’t) and the cruelty and short-sightedness of government officials who repossessed people’s livestock, belongings and even their homes. It’s hard not to get angry when you read how livestock was taken from people and when the newly set up farms couldn’t deal with them, they slaughtered them and then the meat was just left to rot – not given to or even sold to the people. How Shayakhmetov and his mother managed to survive so much, like the fact they were homeless for so long and unable to settle anywhere due to being the family of a kulak, is a testament to their resilience but also a lot of luck and kindness from others. There’s so many other people mentioned, family and acquaintances, who didn’t survive the famine and a lot of the time who managed to survive and who didn’t was down to where people happened to be living and who or what they knew. Just pure chance.

One think that sticks out in Shayakhmetov’s story is how hospitable the nomadic Kazakh are. Their whole culture was forced to change under Stalin’s rule but so many people would still help him and his family when they could, and his family would always help others. They whole country and millions of people were forced to change and for the most part they kept their core values. Or at least, it took the combination of famine, war, and economic struggles for people to start to change.

The Silent Steppe is a really interesting book that covers a place and time I knew little about and shows how far-reaching Stalin and his policies were. How a whole nomadic culture was forced to change and never returned to what it was in such a relative short space of time is amazing – and not in a good way. The Silent Steppe is sad, informative but also a little hopeful as it really demonstrates the power of community – something the Stalin-regime tried to enforce in a structured way when it was already there.

READ THE WORLD – Cambodia: First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

Narrated by Tavia Gilbert.

One of seven children of a high-ranking government official, Loung Ung lived a privileged life in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh until the age of five. Then, in April 1975, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army stormed into the city, forcing Ung’s family to flee and, eventually, to disperse. Loung was trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans, her siblings were sent to labour camps, and those who survived the horrors would not be reunited until the Khmer Rouge was destroyed.

Knowing next to nothing about Cambodia, its people, its cities, its language, listening to the audiobook really helped to learn the pronunciations of different places and names. I feel by listening to the audiobook I got a better feel for the country and its people than reading a physical copy of the book because I know myself and when there’s a word I don’t know how to pronounce, I often skim over it which can mean it loses its impact or meaning.

Loung Ung was just five years old when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and her whole life changed in the blink of an eye. What’s captured so well in First They Killed My Father is how a child understands (or doesn’t) such huge things. For instance, when her family lives Phnom Penh the soldiers tell them they can return in three days, and Loung Ung just doesn’t get why they have to keep walking with no real end destination in mind, when after three days they should just turn around and go home.

Slowly over the months and years Loung Ung grows to understand the fear and danger she and her family live in. They face starvation and the way their bodies are described paints a vivid picture in your mind of the malnourishment they are all facing. It isn’t just the hunger but the fear of the Khmer Rouge and what would happen if they learnt that their father was once connected to the government. It’s a constant source of anxiety for the whole family and the children have to quickly learn new rules in order to keep them all alive – if not safe and well.

First They Killed My Father is a tough book to get through. It’s horrifying that so many families went through this; loved ones dying of starvation or food poisoning, having to send older children away to work or be married in to prevent them having to join the army. Loung Ung’s family is just a snapshot of what hundreds and thousands of people went through in order to survive.

The fact that Loung Ung became a child solider when she was seven is appalling. The propaganda she and the other children had to listen to and recite, how Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge were their saviours and the Vietnamese were evil and wouldn’t hesitate to kill them. The indoctrination these children had was effective as Loung Ung learnt to hate the Vietnamese, though she also hated the Khmer Rouge for what they’d done to her family, how they’d split them up and killed them. The when war arrives and Loung Ung and her family get caught up in it, she sees even more death and suffering.

It must’ve been a difficult experience for Loung Ung to put herself back in the mindset of that young scared, angry and starving child. How she went from being loved, in a home with a maid and cars and a telephone, to living in a shack and having to work in the fields. She does a great job at showing how a child would understand and have to compartmentalise these things, but then there’s some moments where there’s some added wisdom and understanding to her parent’s choices that’ve come from time and age.

First They Killed My Father is a difficult book to read, but it’s an important and powerful one. It’s about a country and a moment in history that I knew nothing about and it paints a very human picture to the unimaginable suffering that millions of Cambodians went through.