It has been seven years since I read First They Killed My Father and Lucky Child, books in which Loung Ung vividly recounts life and death in the labor camps of the Khmer Rouge in 1970s Cambodia, her escape through Vietnam to Thailand and then to Vermont, and her struggle to assimilate in America. She continues her immigrant story in Lulu in the Sky: A Daughter of Cambodia Finds Love, Healing, and Double Happiness.
"Lulu" was the name Loung used with her school friends in Vermont. She hoped to seem less foreign and more like a regular American girl, which was made difficult by the strict rules enforced by her older brother and sister-in-law with whom she lived. Primary among their rules was "no dating." Her family expected that they would arrange a marriage for Loung to another Cambodian. Never openly defiant, while in college she secretly began a relationship with a tall and handsome American from Cleveland. The development of that relationship over time - a long time - is the central story line of Lulu in the Sky.
Parallel to the love story is Ung's account of her need to find purpose or a calling, which she does first through social work and then by becoming a spokesperson for the international effort to ban the use of land mines. This work allowed her to travel internationally, giving her an opportunity to visit her family still living in and around Phnom Penh. I especially enjoyed her visits with her Chinese grandmother, who would, of course, have been very familiar with the symbol for "double happiness."
Readers can start with Lulu in the Sky, as Ung provides enough detail for them to understand her journey. Those who recoil from stories of brutal oppression may only want to read this new love story, but I recommend most readers start with First They Killed My Father to get the full story of the Cambodian genocide.
Ung, Loung. Lulu in the Sky: A Daughter of Cambodia Finds Love, Healing, and Double Happiness. Harper Perennial, 2012. 330p. ISBN 9780062091918.