Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father and Cambodian Civil War: Memoir as Testimony and Beyond

Jyoti Priyadarshini, Tanutrushna Panigrahi


Unlike other research based on literary documentation of history, the present research aims at studying a literary writing about the Cambodian Civil War (hereafter CCW), Loung Ung’s First they killed My Father (hereafter First) first published in 2000. CCW narratives, especially memoirs as testimony, hold a significant place in South/South-East Asian literature. Such memoirs contribute to the molding of stories and myths, constructing a collective memory of war for Cambodians. Authors from the CCW generation provide different frame of mind and reflections of the same, and an interesting mix of new voices from Asia emerges through these narratives. This paper aims to make a two-pronged analysis of the Asian woman writer Loung Ung’s memoir First. First, it studies the text as a direct testimony to the CCW using the theoretical apparatus of testimonial literature. Second, it explores how the literary merit of the text takes it beyond the limits and limitations of the genre while blurring the distinction between autobiographical writing, here a memoir, and the features of a fiction and assumes autofictional qualities. In order to negotiate the proposed bipartite argument, the paper considers the sociological and political aspects of the narrative strategy used and discusses the historical accuracy of the text by providing an insight into the historical evidence of the CCW and other fictional and non-fictional accounts of the same. By proving that Ung’s First is auto-fictional in nature, it offers a new lens to read the text and might be useful in the study of life writing. For the first time, this paper attempts to study Ung’s memoir, First as an Autofiction.


Keywords: Asian women writers, testimony, memoir, Cambodian Civil War, autofiction.


DOI: https://doi.org/10.55463/hkjss.issn.1021-3619.61.18

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