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In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel (edition 2012)

by Vaddey Ratner

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5064120,102 (4.11)92
Member:sallyse
Title:In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel
Authors:Vaddey Ratner
Info:Simon & Schuster (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:Khmer Rouge regime, Raami, survival

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In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel by Vaddey Ratner

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Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
Finished In the Shade of the Banyan and now know quite a bit more about the 1975 Cambodian revolution which instituted the forced march of 1 - 2 million people as the Khmer Rouge attempted to create their version of utopia. The story is told from the 7 year old point of view of Raami, whose father was a descendent from the royal family of Cambodia and therefore had experienced education in Europe and was an accomplished poet. Early on when Raami reveals his name, it becomes a turning point as her father is led away and she is initially blamed for the loss. Raami moves from country village to work camp with her family, her mother and baby sister, an uncle and Grandmother. Without revealing too much, many do not survive the ordeal of what was later called the killing fields, but Raami's journey was an interesting one to read. I can't say that I loved the writing - a bit much on the use of similes - but there were interesting ideas about the importance of story telling to survive.
"Milk Mother said that stories are like footpaths of the gods. They lead us back and forth across time and space and connect us to the entire universe, to people and beings we never see but who we feel exist".
I will list here some good passages from the novel:
"Everything must be silenced. Black was the color of the Revolution. Mama, with her jade-colored sarong and light pink shirt yet to be dyed, resembled a lotus shooting out of the mud. The colors, or maybe her—the brightness of her presence amidst this straw dwelling and dirt—made me want to hold on tight. I flung my arms around her slender frame, the tapered waist Papa had described as the narrowing of a river. A strait to the unknown."

"Bury me and I’ll thrive as countless insects
I bend neither to your weapon nor will
Even as you trample upon my bones
I cower not under your soulless tread
Or fear your shadow casting upon my grave."

"A story, I had learned, through my own constant knitting and reknitting of remembered words, can lead us back to ourselves, to our lost innocence, and in the shadow it casts over our present world, we begin to understand what we only intuited in our naïveté—that while all else may vanish, love is our one eternity. It reflects itself in joy and grief, in my father’s sudden knowledge that he would not live to protect me, and in his determination to leave behind a part of himself—his spirit, his humanity—to illuminate my path, give light to my darkened world. He carved his silhouette in the memory of the sky for me to return to again and again."

Interestingly, I found the author's note at the end to be very thoughtful, understanding why she wrote a novel instead of a memoir, the lessons she tried to bring back to her life and her amazing accomplishments in school . Her father's thoughts continued to shape her life.

"We are all beggars, my father said. It doesn’t matter what we wear—rags, a saffron robe, or silk. We each ask the same of life. I may have been born a princess. But that beggar, that blind man, who was probably born poor and no doubt had suffered greatly, discerned enough beauty to want to continue living. He deserved our highest respect. His life had as much nobility as ours, as anyone’s, and we ought to accord it dignity. I cannot recall my father’s every word exactly, but as young as I was, it was clear what he wanted me to understand. His gesture and words resonate with me to this day. For all the loss and tragedy I have known, my life has taught me that the human spirit, like the lifted hands of the blind, will rise above chaos and destruction, as wings in flight." ( )
  novelcommentary | May 25, 2015 |
This was a very beautifully written book. Some describe it as lyrical and I would agree. The fictionalized story was told from the voice of a little girl, Raami and her real life memories of survival during the Khmer Rouge Revolution in 1970's Cambodia. We discussed this as our Book Club Book for March 2015. I hadn't finished the book yet, but when asked about thoughts on Aana, Raami's mother; I felt not impressed by her. Raami had a strong bond with her father, she tells you outright throughout the book. Her relationship with her beautiful mother was shadowed by her younger sister Radana and I didn't feel the love between Mother and Daughter as was evident with her father. However..... I have changed my mind since finishing the book, and I applaud the strength and humility of Aana. She survived, against all odds and she was committed to Raami's survival. She worked hard, she didn't coddle Raami as she did the baby sister and when she was so distraught full of loss, fear and exhaustion... she kept surviving and the only reason possible was to save Raami. I admire her. If the story was told in her voice, I am sure her experience would have been far worse than a little girl's memory and I am sure, that Aana shielded Raami from the atrocities that she must have witnessed. I don't know much about Cambodia or that war for that matter, but I do have a new heartfelt admiration to all of the survivors of that terrible time in their history. ( )
  booklovers2 | Apr 15, 2015 |
A memoir that the author has fictionalized because of how young she was when the events chronicled in her book take place. The writing gives tribute to both the personality, the character and the artist in her father- who a Cambodian Prince is taken from her and her mother and the rest of the family as part of the revolution. His stories and poetry sustained the main character and forged within her the ability to observe, to survive and to capture beauty even in the midst of great hardship and tragedy. I found myself crying several times- partly for the story- the little girl - not -so-naive narrator, for her strong willed, and grievously treated mother and also for her ability to write with such finesse. ( )
  HelenGress | Feb 20, 2015 |
Set in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime In The Shadow of the Banyan describes a seven year old child’s confusion and terror as her life of privilege is torn away and she and her family are turned out of their home and into a world of fanaticism and violence. Not understanding that her family, as minor royalty, would come in for special interrogation, Raami reveals her fathers true name to the soldiers and then lives with the guilt she feels as he is taken away and never seen again. This was just the first of the tragedies that this young girl lived through.

Raami and her mother are moved about by the revolutionaries and set to work at many back-breaking tasks, barely kept alive on starvation rations, they remain committed to each other and the memory of their loved ones. She dreams of her father, of the poetry and life lessons he gave her while her mother is a tower of strength and inner fortitude that I found incredible. When the opportunity comes Raami’s mother ensures their escape through Thailand and eventually to the United States and makes true her promise that she and her child will live a better life someday.

I did feel that the lyrical writing and poetical phrasing created a barrier between the myself and the characters. Ultimately this is a book that features brutality and violence, the atrocities that were committed by the Khmer Rouge are well documented but I felt the writing softened the effect somewhat. I believe the author’s ultimate purpose was for this book to tribute her mother, pay homage to her lost family and show how their resiliency and courage brought them through this dark period in their lives. ( )
2 vote DeltaQueen50 | Oct 17, 2014 |
This is a very powerful, painful, and moving book about the Khemer Rouge in Cambodia told from a young girl's point of view. Sometimes the insights of the narrator seemed too profound for a 7 to 9 year old but beauty and hope presented far outweighed that problem. ( )
  snash | Mar 27, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
How is it that so much of this bleak novel is full of beauty, even joy? ...In interviews, Ratner has explained that she chose to write a novel rather than a memoir partly because she was too young at the time “to recall the exact details.” As a work of fiction, “In the Shadow of the Banyan” is less a testament to atrocity than a reconciliation with the past. At one point, Raami’s nanny tells her that stories “are like footpaths of the gods. They lead us back and forth across time and space and connect us to the entire universe.” What is remarkable, and honorable, here is the absence of anger, and the capacity — seemingly infinite — for empathy.
 
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Epigraph
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For my mother In the memory of my father, Neak Ang Mechas Sisowath Ayuravann
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War entered my childhood world not with the blasts of rockets and bombs but with my father's footsteps as he walked through the hallway, passing my bedroom toward his.
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You are about to read an extraordinary story. It will take you to the very depths of despair and show you unspeakable horrors. It will reveal a gorgeously rich culture struggling to survive through a furtive bow, a hidden ankle bracelet, fragments of remembered poetry. It will ensure that the world never forgets the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, when an estimated two million people lost their lives. It will give you hope, and it will confirm the power of storytelling to lift us up and help us not only survive but transcend suffering, cruelty, and loss.

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 the Khmer Rouge attempts to strip the population of every shred of individual identity, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of her 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. Displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.
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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.… (more)

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