First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

Loung presents the reader with a straightforward and heartbreaking account of the Cambodian genocide through her first-person perspective as a child struggling to survive. She does a fantastic job of humanizing the experience, displaying a singular perspective of an era which can be hard to empathize with otherwise due to its unimaginably vast and horrific nature (including the death of millions). The contrast between Loung and her relatives is particularly beautiful in showing the different ways that humans can cope under extreme duress. While she is headstrong and fueled by rage, her sister Chou endures through passivity. Loung’s description of the desperate actions taken out of fear, hunger, and anger are especially enlightening. The prose is fairly simple and the internal monologue comes off as repetitive at times, though this bolsters the book’s childish lens. Loung focuses almost entirely on portraying the narrative of her family; do not expect a complete overview of the genocide or any political analysis.

Finally the women stand still. Their weapons drip with blood as they walk away. When they turn around, I see that they look like death themselves. Their hair trickles blood and sweat, their clothes drip, their faces red and rigid. Only their eyes look alive as they seethe with more rage and hate. The women are quiet as the crowd parts for them to pass through. During the execution, the crowd did not cheer but watched, silent and devoid of emotion, as if it were the slaughter of an animal for food. After the women are gone, the crowd begins to buzz.

In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio

Anthropologist Philippe Bourgois lives in El Barrio (an impoverished neighborhood in East Harlem, then mostly populated by Puerto Ricans) from 1985 to 1990 and befriends a network of crack dealers. Through transcriptions of tape recordings combined with historical contextualization and socioeconomic analysis, he paints a vivid picture of broken families who want out of this lifestyle but face countless hurdles from institutional racism. Generational trauma is maintained by a cycle of physical/sexual/emotional abuse and drug addiction. The characters are not easy to like yet their humanity is made obvious. Read more