In the Shadow of the Banyan

Ratner, Vaddey

Book - 2012
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
In the Shadow of the Banyan
Told from the tender perspective of a young girl who comes of age amid the Cambodian killing fields, this novel is based on the author's personal story. For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. Soon the family's world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus. Over the next four years, as she endures the deaths of family members, starvation, and brutal forced labor, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of childhood, the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival.

Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Edition: 1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.
ISBN: 1451657706
Characteristics: 322 p. ;,24 cm.


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Aug 15, 2013
  • blolo rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

This is well written, and (as often happens when I read historical fiction) I learned a lot about the regime while reading this. It could have "captured" my attention a bit more, but I think one of the reasons I wasn't "dying to pick it up" is because it was really depressing & difficult to read at times because the brutality of the regime was just unreal. The tragedy that the author (and main character) lived through is just so hard to comprehend. How do so many pple get SO messed up and view the world in such messed up ways?!?! It's also hard to believe how relatively recent this all happened.

Mar 14, 2013
  • mclarjh rated this: 2.5 stars out of 5.

Ordinary prose, conventional story-telling.

Jan 05, 2013
  • gracindaisy rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Beautifully written story of Cambodia & survival under the Khmer Rouge.

Oct 24, 2012
  • SuzeParker rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

The first two-thirds of this book were somewhat slow and, for me, overly detailed. The final third of the book, however, focuses on the escalation of Khmer Rouge brutality as the revolution starts to unravel and, as such, is powerful and highly moving. I finally began to feel the characters' despair and to admire (and root for) their tenuous hold on hope. The author's notes at the end of the book, which explain that this writing is essentially her own story, were equally poignant. Ultimately, it was well worth working through the first part of the book to get to the heart at the end.

Oct 18, 2012
  • max_ine rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

I think this is the best book I have ever read!

Sep 25, 2012
  • DianePhipps rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

She writes poetically eg.

"I heard noses outside, the hums and drones of night creatures.An owl hooted, and another answered, telling each other an endless tale......

The crickets made whirring music to accompany the owls' tale. The trees stirred to listen. Once in a while the wind yawned."

A feeling of awe for her writing came over me. I was impressed.

Sep 16, 2012
  • Cdnbookworm rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This novel takes us to Cambodia in the late '70s, in the time of the civil war. Raami is seven years old, the oldest daughter in a royal family. She wears a leg brace as a result of polio. She lives in Phnom Penh, with her father and mother and little sister Radana, her aunt Tata, and Grandmother Queen.
When the Khmer Rouge take over the city, Raami and her family are forced to flee their home. At first they go to their country home, near the Mekong river, but are soon forced out of that by the revolutionary soldiers as well.
As they join others, living in makeshift shelters, forced into further and further hardships, separated from those they love, Raami tries to keep her father's advice in mind. He told her that you can always find a tiny glimpse of beauty no matter what ugliness and destruction is around you. Raami's Papa is a poet and has told her stories ever since she was little, engaging her imagination and teaching her the myths of the Cambodian spiritual world. While witnessing the world changing around her, Raami keeps her imagination and the stories. She is a witness even while being a victim of the regime. Raami's voice is strong and individual and brings the novel to life before us. Raami is a child who is forced to mature under harsh conditions, forced labour and the loss of family members, but she hangs on to a bit of that childhood innocence throughout.
The author was also young, only five, when she too was forced out of her royal house with her family. Bringing portions of her own history into this story adds to the emotional integrity of the book, and the afterword, where she tells us briefly of her own story and her own return to Cambodia as an adult, is moving.
I also found the mention of the youth of many of the soldiers interesting, given the large number of child soldiers today in the Middle East and Africa. This seems to be a theme common to internal uprisings that warrants discussion.
This book is an amazing read, bringing a country in a difficult historical time to life for the reader. I highly recommend it.


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