Lulu in the Sky

A Daughter of Cambodia Finds Love, Healing and Double Happiness

Author: Loung Ung

Published By:
Harper Perennial

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            I first became acquainted with activist and author Loung Ungís work when I stumbled upon a book whose shocking title caught my eye.  First They Killed My Father, tells the story of Loungís survival in the Cambodian Killing Fields.  The book is written as if the story were actually being told by a young child.  The story was captivating and so well-written that I immediately bought the sequel, Lucky Child, in which Loung discusses her struggle as an immigrant in the United States and the struggles of her sister, Chou, who remained behind in Cambodia.  As soon as I heard of a third book in the series, I ran to Barnes & Nobleicon to purchase a copy.

            Lulu in the Sky picks up in Loung Ungís college years.  Loung is still struggling with the demons of her youth in Cambodia.  Seemingly assimilated into American society, Loung is secretly still haunted by all that happened to her and her family during the Khmer Rouge reign.  She fears intimate relationships because there is always that dread of the people she loves being taken away.  There is a darkness inside brought on by survivorís guilt and post traumatic stress.  She still harbors anger at her mother for her perceived abandonment when her mother pushed her and her siblings away in an effort to save their lives.  And there are haunting memories of the near-rape by the Vietnamese soldier that crop up at the least opportune moments.

            Lulu in the Sky tells us the story of how Loung learned to cope with these issues.  Still uncertain of what she wanted out of life, but knowing that she didnít want to sit on the sidelines when she could do something to help her people, Loung eventually became involved in he Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.  Finding her calling, Loung went to bat talking about the atrocities of the Killing Fields in Cambodia and fighting to ban landmine usage internationally. 

            In the meantime, Loung somehow was able to cultivate a relationship with a young man she met in college who seemed to be her exact opposite.  Although they had a great deal in common when it came to activist things, Loung and Mark Premier seemed polar opposites that somehow had managed to attract.  Loung was dark and moody with a pessimistic view of the world, while Mark was bright and happily full of optimism.  Their long-running long distance relationship somehow manages to overcome many obstacles, but seems to be doomed until a historic event that would change everything in Loungís life forever.

            The death of Pol Pot, former leader of the Khmer Rouge and the man responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Cambodians, on April of 1998, brought about so many painful memories of what Loung had gone through during her childhood that she decided to write them down.  This turned into a flood of words as all of the pain and suffering of the past came out.  First They Killed My Father was born.  It was through the telling of her story that healing had begun and her ability to accept happiness would grow.  But it wasnít until she realized the sacrifice her mother made all those years ago and learned to forgive herself for the anger she had harbored for her mother all those years that Loung could truly and finally find healing.

            Lulu in the Sky was written as much for Loungís mother as for herself and tells how Loung finally found the courage to discuss her past leading to healing and the discovery of love and happiness.  The version of Lulu in the Sky that I read also contained a P.S. section featuring interviews with Loung that offered more insight into the inspiration behind writing this book and more. 

            Loung Ung is a superior writer, capable of drawing you in and holding your attention as she reveals her happiest and most painful memories.  Her memoirs are incredibly touching and serve as an inspiration to us all.  As an activist, Loung Ung has done much to help many and her books only serve to further her activist achievements.  One can only hope that Lulu in the Sky is not her final book.  Such a gifted writer should never put down their pen as they will always find a willing audience.


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