For someone who has experienced hell, Loung Ung is a bright, welcoming voice filled with inviting laughter.
She’s warm: “I just had dinner with my writing group last night. They’re my PenGals. I just love them! I don’t know what I would do without them.”
She’s practical: “I hate to drive! I have a 1997 beat-up old Toyota so if I get another ding on it, I don’t have to worry!”
She’s mischievous: “Yeah, just about when everyone is pulling out their boots and scarves, I like to share pictures of me on the beach with my friends at home who are freezing.”
She’s curious: “I tried to Google you, but I couldn’t figure out which Terry Hong you are!”
She’s goofy: “When I don’t feel like cooking, and my husband doesn’t feel like cooking, I just tell him, ‘Hey, I moved to Ohio for love! Make me something warm and good! Pour me a glass of wine and I’ll sit at the counter and entertain you while you cook for me!’”
Yes, she loves to eat, and she’s not even picky: “I can eat anything, and sleep anywhere!” she declares. “I grew up eating out of the garbage cans, so nothing ever upsets my stomach!”
And there she offers a glimpse of her past. Above all else, Loung Ung is a survivor – a survivor who has managed to keep her humanity (and humor) intact in spite of enduring unspeakable atrocity. After living the first five years of her life as a privileged, pampered second-to-last daughter – one of seven children – in a large Cambodian-Chinese family in Phnom Penh, she spent the next five years trapped in tortuous horror, trying to outrun destruction, war, starvation, and death. During her most formative years, she experienced both the unconditional devotion and courage of her family, and witnessed the most atrocious evil acts of inhumanity.
The United States’ evacuation of Vietnam in April 1975 affected not only Vietnam, but neighboring Cambodia and Laos, where the so-called Vietnam War spread. With the U.S. troops out of the way, the Communist Khmer Rouge stormed into Cambodia’s capital (and largest city) Phnom Penh and dispersed its inhabitants; those who survived were sent to forced labor camps where many would die of starvation, disease, torture, and execution. Over the next four years, Pol Pot and his regime claimed 1.7 million lives – a quarter of Cambodia’s then-population.
Half of Loung’s immediate family somehow survived. Those horrific years – from ages 5 to 9 – eventually became Loung’s debut memoir, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, originally published in 2000, which quickly became a national bestseller. Five years later, she followed that success with the critically acclaimed Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind.
With the same courageous energy that allowed her to survive when so many did not, Loung has spent most of her adulthood enabling, championing, saving other people’s lives. As an international activist, Loung was the perfect choice to inaugurate the 10×10 team of exceptional writers. [… click here for more: author interview appears on pages 6-13]