Luong Ung 

The author and narrator. Luong is a spirited and curious five-year-old when the story begins. She clashes often with her mother, who hopes to mold her into a proper young lady, but wins support from her father, who values her cleverness and curiosity. After her family leaves their home, she is eventually recruited by the Khmer Rouge to be a child soldier. Throughout the horrors of the regime, Luong struggles to grasp what has happened to her family, particularly why people might hate them for no obvious reason. The traumas she suffers change her profoundly but never break her spirit.  

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Luong’s beloved father. A former monk and high-ranking military police officer in the defunct Lon Nol government, Pa is Luong’s champion and the person she believes understands her most. She looks to him for knowledge, love, and security. He is in constant danger from the Khmer Rouge, which seeks to execute all members of the former government. When he is finally discovered, Pa meets his fate with dignity. Even after his execution, Pa is a source of strength for Luong.   

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Luong’s mother. Ma is physically beautiful with Chinese features, which puts her in danger because of the ethnic genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. After Pa’s execution, Luong is concerned that Ma is neither strong nor independent enough to provide for the family, but Ma proves her daughter wrong. The Khmer Rouge execute her in 1978. 

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Chou Ung 

Luong’s older sister. Chou is eight years old in 1975. More passive than Luong, Chou often submits with fewer complaints to their parents and, later, the Khmer Rouge regime. Luong and Chou become very close, although Luong often wonders why Chou isn’t angrier about their terrible circumstances.

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Kim Ung  

The youngest of the Ung brothers. Kim is 10 years old in 1975 and his nickname is “little monkey” because he is agile, small, and capable. Young enough to remain with his parents, he learns different ways to provide food for his family. Even though he is young, he is brave and takes his responsibilities seriously. 

Keav Ung 

Luong’s beautiful oldest sister. Keav is 14 in 1975 and has a similar temperament to Luong. In August 1976, she dies from dysentery alone after months in a teen work camp. Keav is the first member of the Ung family to die because of the Khmer Rouge, despite the title of the book.  

Meng Ung 

The oldest of the seven Ung siblings. Meng is 18 years old at the memoir’s start. He is handsome, gentle, and kind. He avoids being conscripted into the army and spends most of the period in a work camp, often with Khouy. Once the siblings are reunited, Meng takes his place as head of the family. He marries Eang, a woman with Vietnamese heritage. Meng, Eang, and Luong move to the United States, where he and Eang have two children. He takes his family responsibilities very seriously, converting to Christianity and working long hours to improve their situation.  

Khouy Ung  

The second-oldest Ung son. Often surly, Khouy frightens Luong but attracts attention in Phnom Penh for his good looks and charisma. Ma and Pa worry that he will be drafted into the army so they arrange for him to marry. His temperament changes from his ordeal and he becomes quieter. He eventually becomes the police chief in Bat Deng.  

Geak Ung  

The youngest of the seven Ung children. Only three in 1975, Geak is a tragic figure throughout the book, as her short life is one of suffering and misery. She is executed by the Khmer Rouge with Ma in 1978. Luong is often jealous of Ma’s attention to Geak. 

Pol Pot 

The brutal, ruthless leader of the Khmer Rouge. His shadowy control of the Khmer Rouge soldiers, none of whom are ever named in First They Killed My Father, makes him the chief antagonist of the Ungs and Cambodian people as a whole. As he moves out of the shadows, Luong focuses her anger on him. 

Met Bong 

The woman in charge of the camp where Luong trains as a child soldier. Met Bong is not a name but instead means “comrade elder sister.” Fanatically devoted to the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, Met Bong hopes to make Luong into a good soldier.  

Eang Ung 

Meng’s wife. In 1979, the Ung family selects her as a bride because, like Ma, she has some Chinese heritage and is beautiful and clever. Eang’s family connections in Vietnam enable her, Meng, and Luong to emigrate to the United States in 1980. 

Uncle Heang 

Ma’s oldest brother. Uncle Heang arranges the marriage of Meng and Eang and he cares for the Ung children after their parents’ deaths. 


A friend of Luong and Chou. Pithy and the Ung girls meet after the end of the regime. She is killed in a late attack by the Khmer Rouge. 

Uncle Leang 

Ma’s second brother.  

Aunt Keang 

Uncle Leang’s wife.  

Lon Nol 

Leader of the pro-American regime that came to power in 1970. His coming to power marks the beginning of the Cambodian Civil War, which the Khmer Rouge win. At the beginning of the memoir, Pa works for the Lon Nol regime.