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

by Vaddey Ratner

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6114715,963 (4.1)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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English (46)  Dutch (1)  All languages (47)
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
Of the many stories I have read about the Khmer Rouge, some by Cambodians, others by foreigners trapped there during 1975-1979, I felt that this was the least informative.

I understand that In the Shadow of the Banyan sought to be an "artistic" rendition of the experience, as opposed to a "realist" one (such as that of Chanrithy Him or François Bizot), and hence in the light of this different objective, was not concerned with the details of the decrepitude that I encountered in the other two novels. But this decision to use fiction rather than a memoir style to explain what happened, left me feeling either that 1) Ratner was maybe privileged in her treatment(perhaps due to her royal connections, which although suppressed may have had an impact on those around her) or that 2) because she was so young during the KR's rule(only 5 as she says), she may have had to reconstruct a lot of what happened based on the reading of other similar stories.

Nevertheless, either way, one must not dismiss her experiences, her pain especially, and I have profound respect for what she has undergone and how she has wished to translate those experiences into words -- I know it's not an easy thing to do, and I know that regardless of the quality of the story, one always has much more hidden, that can't be translated into words.

Let me say a few words about this artistic novel then, whose reading for me, would not have been complete had I not inserted bits and pieces of my own knowledge of other stories about the Khmer Rouge.

As an artistic novel, (this is how S & S qualifies it) I read the novel carefully, because I wanted to absorb all the images that Ratner captured and tried to convey -- some, no, most of them were beautiful. Very beautiful. But if I were to assess this novel purely for its artistic qualities, without letting the emotions of pity, sympathy and a respect for the author's personal experiences cloud my judgment, I would say that it suffers from some of the jarring deficiencies that most artistic novels I know, suffer from: that is, the slow and cautious pace that I had at first, was quickly lost as I turned the pages; therefore it became less artistic, less soulful. I now remember that I have always felt that most of Salman Rushdie's books suffer from the same defect. It's as if the procedural constraint that most literary agents have, of requiring say the first 20/30/50 pages to be sent to them before they make a decision on representation, has made authors perfect only those pages.

I feel that Ratner could have spent more time on the rest of the story to make it more artistic and soulful -- qualities that I feel she could easily add to the story, because I can see she "has it in her" (not many authors do!!). Lastly, I do agree with other reviewers that the child narrator's voice in the novel, didn't sound authentic -- one can't imagine her observing, deducing and remembering so much if she were only 7 years old.

One of the books in my opinion that "had it" from beginning to end was Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory -- this memoir deserves to be read over and over again just because of that! ( )
  humeirah | Jun 29, 2016 |
The story of Red Cambodia from a prince poet daughter's eyes. Lyrical and brutal, sobering and hopeful all at once. Fiction, but clearly based upon a real life experience. Thanks for telling the story. ( )
  sydsavvy | Apr 8, 2016 |
Beautifully written novel covering strife, love,loss, and resilience. Loosely based on the author's experience during the Cambodian killing fields. Worth the read for the historical perspective and the human perspective. I really enjoyed this even though it stirred up many unpleasant emotions. ( )
  becka11y2 | Jan 19, 2016 |
Absolutely loved this book that brought me to tears. ( )
  Suzanne81 | Jan 12, 2016 |
This is a beautifully written tragic and heartbreaking story.

The writing is so lyrical and amazing, it actually diminishes the impact of what you are reading while you are reading it. It was only after I put the book down and had time to think about the story itself that I could try to comprehend what the people were enduring. Even then, I knew I could never fully understand what it would be like to try and live under those conditions.

( )
  grandpahobo | Sep 24, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (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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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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