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Story of sisters from Cambodia during Khmer Rouge

Updated on August 23, 2012

The dualistic healing lives from the Khmer Rouge

Living in the western hemisphere it is hard to imagine what life must be like in a war raved country. Even harder to comprehend is how children or anyone can heal from such traumatic experiences. But contrary to initial thoughts, maybe its not best to get these children out of the country to America or other western havens; perhaps its best to leave them in their home country. Below is a review of the story of two sisters, one left in Cambodia the other brought to the Unites States and how they both attempted to heal from the atrocities they lived thru with Khmer Rouge.

Image Credit: IEP

Emotional aftermath from Khmer Rouge

Throughout history there have been unspeakable atrocities committed by figures in power to others, and while there is usually no lack of books documenting such events themselves, what of the scars that live in the survivors. What is the emotional price to living thru such ineffable actions?

Author and survivor Loung Ung paints a vivid world of what it was like for her family during the time of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in her earlier book, but then how she and her sister struggled to heal in the life that followed. For her, she moved to America with her older brother while her closest sister stayed with the rest of the family in Cambodia. Artfully depicting major milestones in both sisters lives in different hemispheres each facing unique obstacles and fears, both struggling to learn what should a normal life feel like.

On first blush the reader might feel more sympathy for the sister left behind in a war torn country with no running water, electricity or means of earning reliable income. But soon it becomes apparent that being around friends, family and fellow countrymen who have gone through the same traumatic experiences aided in healing and provided a level of catharsis. The reader is treated to wonderful story of how the human psyche can heal itself with the help of a community, time and love; enabling her to live life again thru small victories and happy events. There are tremendous setbacks one can expect in a country still trying to heal, ones that caused me to hold my breath while rapidly reading before assured of a safe outcome, but each led to a stronger woman.

Whereas Loung, who is now in a land of opportunity and freedom in the United States, feels trapped requiring her to hide her emotions as she attempts to fit in. It is too easy to minimize the pain of a teenager who not only needs to learn a new culture but at the same time try to deal with the demons that came over on the the plane from Cambodia. One of the most poignant examples was Loung's first July 4th celebration. She saw explosions in the sky which triggers memories of being shelled by the military to come flooding back. Every instinct tells her to run and take cover even to simply scream, yet she watches people around her clapping and laughing. This is beyond her comprehension having seen friends and family killed in the most gruesome of ways by explosions just like these back home. Sadly, no one picks up on this emotional trauma or offer to help her adjust in a new life, forcing her to try to heal on her own at a different pace and in far different ways as her sister.

Fair warning that there are parts of this book that can (and should) be disturbing for most readers. Images of victims of land mines and other war atrocities can be unsettling, but is critically important to help the reader understand how hard it must be to heal from these experiences. This story is so critical to understand how a person can hopefully heal when forced to experience monstrous crimes and to understand what happened in recent history to ensure it never repeats itself!

What can we learn from this story

It is far too easy for those of us who live in developed nations to simply respond to a crisis and attempt to transplant refugees to our own country. While we might think we are helping, sometimes the uprooting a refugee from their family and community, from their customs and traditions is actually more damaging than can be expected. Part of the healing process requires individuals with shared experiences to heal and grow together. This is why group workshops and concealing sessions are so important for everything from addiction groups to stress debriefings with fire fighters and other emergency personnel. Thus, whenever we are faced with refugees from Darfur, Syria or other locations; maybe we examine the options of helping them in their home locations and only after we exhaust those options do we bring them back to a foreign land against their will.

Did you learn about the Khmer Rouge in school?

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Learn more directly from this remarkable person

There is no way I can capture all the emotion and history that this book has inside of it. I would recommend getting your own copy, and while an easy relatively quick read, it will certainly change your outlook on so much in life.

What do you think of this story?

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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Luong story is the story of many families in Cambodia. Some of our friends there could not even talk about it.

    • LouisaDembul profile image


      6 years ago

      I remember well the problems in Cambodia, it was a very cruel and horrible conflict.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very moving and powerful - thank you so much for sharing. Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      6 years ago from Land of Aloha

      Such an important part of history. A very sad part as so many are. :(

    • PlethoraReader profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Silicon Valley

      @kathysart: Was equally hard to see the area where this happened in Cambodia, but also heartening to see how they have come back with a wonderful attitude toward life.

    • kathysart profile image


      6 years ago

      Such a powerful lens. Thumbs up!! Angle Blessed.


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