“This is what the war has done to me. Now I want to destroy because of it. There is such hate and rage inside me now. The Angkar has taught me to hate so deeply that I now know I have the power to destroy and kill.”

In “Pa: December 1976” Luong Ung shows that one of the effects of hate is the way it radiates from the inside of an individual out into the world. In this passage, from the chapter about Pa’s death, Luong and Chou gaze at a gorgeous sunset and Luong wonders how beauty can continue to exist when Pa has been murdered. The beautiful landscape makes Luong wonder how beauty can coexist with profound evil. This is a question that theologians have long debated. Luong, a child, decides the appropriate response is to destroy everything beautiful in the world, so the external reality matches what she feels inside. What she has learned from the Angkar is not the value of equality but instead the power of profound hate.

“He bends his head, looks down at his feet again, knowing there is no way out. His government has created a vengeful, bloodthirsty people. Pol Pot has turned me into someone who wants to kill.”

This is a moment from “The Execution: March 1979,” just before two female volunteers kill the Khmer Rouge prisoner. The passage shifts between individuals like Luong, the women, the prisoner, and Pol Pot, then expands to the collective, the Khmer Rouge government, and the “vengeful” population its policies created. The Khmer Rouge wanted to create a society of equals and, in this passage at least, it has succeeded—for the people are unified by their desires for blood and vengeance, a far cry from the idealized agrarian paradise the regime had wanted to found. In the final sentence, Luong both locates herself in this group by expressing her own desire to kill and differentiates herself from it by holding onto her singular identity.