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In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel by…

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

by Vaddey Ratner

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5014020,341 (4.11)92
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
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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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 |
If we think about communism in Asia, as Americans we tend to focus on China or Korea or Vietnam. Very few people probably include Cambodia in that list and an even smaller handful of people are likely to have any knowledge of the Cambodian revolution and civil war in the 1970s, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, the atrocities they perpetuated, and the genocide that followed their takeover of this South East Asian neighbor to Vietnam. Vaddey Ratner's lyrical and heartbreaking tale of a seven year old girl's view of the revolution, based loosely on her own terrible experiences living through that desperate time, brings the reality of the time to vivid life.

Raami is a young princess in the Cambodian royal family. Despite her leg brace, needed after suffering polio as a baby, she lives a privileged life with her graceful mother, sensitive and poetic father, and beautiful baby sister. But her educated and wealthy family is not blind or indifferent to the poverty and want that seems to be growing daily outside their door. And as loved as the royal family is in some quarters, when the revolution comes, they too are swept up in the exodus from the city, hiding their origins in order to survive and struggling to stay together. The situation escalates as they move from place to place, feeling the pinch of hunger and forced into meaningless backbreaking labor. And they are not spared the suffering, separation, and the deaths of those they love that people all across the country endure at the brutal hands of the Khmer Rouge.

Because Raami is merely a child, the narration captures the horrific alongside her innocence and lack of understanding of the bigger, more menacing reality. She is sustained by the memory of her father's lyrical poetry and the fanciful stories she's internalized. And she has the striking ability to notice the landscape and the beauty of nature all around her even in the midst of horrors. This perspective helps to temper the graphic and terrible experiences, muting them some for the reader as well. As Raami recounts the starvation and the inhumanity of the labor camps, the deaths, and the brutality, she also finds instances of good and kindness around her, counterbalancing the inhumanity of man.

The novel is beautifully written although it still remains difficult to read about the worst of the atrocities, even with the gentler perspective of a child. And it is hard to believe that all of this horror was packed into only four years because there's so much sorrow and pain. Ratner's first hand experience shines through the text and her ability to find the beauty in the Cambodia she left so long ago and which decimated her beloved family is astounding. She has written a novel that doesn't shy away from documenting the worst of humanity but also celebrates survival, the resilience of the human heart, and the enduring bonds of family and of love. You won't soon forget this one. ( )
  whitreidtan | Jan 18, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (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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