The Youn Invasion: January 1979 

Met Bong informs the camp that the Vietnamese have invaded, then mortar fire destroys Luong’s hut. Although she escapes the fire, Luong is too small to help a girl trapped in the burning structure. In the chaos, Luong flees toward Chou’s camp and, on the way, she encounters Kim and Chou. The three follow the crowd and eventually veer off into an abandoned village, where they find chickens to eat before walking further. That night, Luong wonders about the obvious exaggerations and propaganda Met Bong repeated every night at the camp. She wishes the Youns had invaded sooner, saving her family.  

The siblings walk for several days and eventually encounter some Youn soldiers, who direct them to a refugee camp in Pursat City. When they reach the camp, they eventually settle with other orphans at the camp’s edge. Kim scrounges for food but there is seldom enough. Kim, Chou, and Luong need to find a family to take them in and, although the first man they ask says no, he finds several families who might have room for them. 

The First Foster Family: January 1979 

A family agrees to take in the Ung children and Luong is excited when she sees that it includes palm tree boy, her “friend” from the camp. Her hopes are dashed when she hears about their rigorous work assignments, caring for the family’s children and grandmother, and hunting for food. Only Paof, palm tree boy, is friendly although Luong comes to find the way he looks at her unnerving. One day, he grabs her and, after she fights him off, she decides to avoid him in the future. The family is not kind, but the children have enough food. 

While living with them, Chou and Luong make friends with a girl named Pithy. The three hunt for firewood and encounter a Youn soldier. Thirsty, Luong goes with him to find water. He leads her to a secluded grove where he shoves her down and covers her mouth as he removes his clothes. As he pulls off her clothes, she screams and kicks him in the groin. Luong escapes and finds Chou and Pithy. She wants to report him but she steps on a piece of glass. When she gets back to the hut, the mother tells her that she will be a sex worker when she’s older, but Pa’s voice comforts her. 

Flying Bullets: February 1979 

A month passes and Luong’s hatred of the family grows. One day, shots are fired near the hut, missing Luong but hitting the grandmother, who is hospitalized. A few days later, they send Luong to take her food. The hospital terrifies Luong, even though she has now seen many injured and dying people, including a badly burned boy who stepped on a landmine. She finds the grandmother and feels a moment of pity that is quickly erased when she calls Luong a thief. Shortly after the grandmother returns to the hut, the Ung children are sent to live with a new family. 

The new family has a larger hut and is kinder. As she does her chores, Luong twice comes upon corpses of Khmer Rouge soldiers. She responds each time with satisfied rage, hoping they will all die horribly. When she, Kim, and Chou develop red eye disease, Luong worries that she got it from staring at the dead. The mother of the new family confirms that looking at dirty things does bad things to people. 


These three chapters narrate the arrival of the Youns, the Vietnamese army. This marks the beginning of the end of the Khmer Rouge regime and the period echoes the chaos of the Ungs’ evacuation out of Phnom Penh. Luong, Chou, and Kim are once again walking in a massive crowd along a road, unsure of their destination and uncertain where they will find food. As before, leaving the crowd can make them more likely to become victims of violence. In the past, children were under the care of their parents, but now they must fend for themselves. Even though Luong, Chou, and Kim have changed a great deal and are more capable, they realize they must attach themselves to a family to get the kind of care they need. They understand that their role in a new family will likely be very different from being with Ma and Pa. They are prepared to trade love for labor, a shift that inverts their comfortable family structure. This arrangement repeats in their foster homes. 

The chapters also return to the theme of sexual violence, now with Luong as its victim. She is attacked by two men in a short period of time—first Paof, then an unnamed Youn soldier. Luong manages to fight both of them off, reinforcing the idea that her physical strength, military training, and spirit can protect her and help her survive.

Despite her experiences with violence, Luong is quite innocent when it comes to sex, and notes that she has never before seen an aroused man. She escapes thanks to her quick thinking and physical strength. Despite emphasizing equality, the Khmer Rouge teach the children in their camps that women are weak, and it is clear that Paof did not learn about gender equality during his training. When Luong’s foster mother taunts her with a future of prostitution, the chapters’ emphasis on sexual assault shifts. Rather than being attacked by men, Luong’s first foster mother uses sex to insult Luong’s character. Unaware of what has happened to Luong, the first foster mother says that the best future Luong could hope for is as a sex worker. This remark is another way of associating sexuality and women’s bodies with transgression.

These chapters also register a subtle shift in Luong’s moral compass. Not only does she make a friend, Pithy, but she also feels sympathy for a badly burned boy and her foster grandmother. The boy has suffered a truly horrible accident, losing a limb and suffering burns over much of his body after stepping on a landmine. It is arguably not a surprise that she might linger to consider his fate. Arguably more surprising is Luong’s admittedly temporary pity for the foster grandmother, who regularly treats her with contempt and cruelty. When the grandmother wrongly asserts that Luong has eaten some of the food the family sent, she calls Luong a thief. While this accusation causes Luong to push her feelings of sympathy aside, the fact that she manages to recognize the pain of someone who has wronged her suggests that she is leaving behind some of the lessons the Khmer Rouge taught her.