Summary and book reviews of In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

In the Shadow of the Banyan

A Novel

By Vaddey Ratner

In the Shadow of the Banyan
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    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Jul 2012,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2013,
    320 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

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. Displaying the author's extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is testament to the transcendent power of narrative and a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.

One

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. I heard the door open and shut with a soft click. I slid off my bed, careful not to wake Radana in her crib, and snuck out of my room. I pressed my ear to the door and listened.

"Are you all right?" Mama sounded concerned.

Each day before dawn, Papa would go out for a solitary stroll, and returning an hour or so later, he would bring back with him the sights and sounds of the city, from which would emerge the poems he read aloud to me. This morning, though, it seemed he came back as soon as he'd stepped out, for dawn had just arrived and the feel of night had yet to dissipate. Silence trailed his every step like the remnant of a dream long after waking. I imagined him lying next to Mama now, his eyes closed as he listened to her voice, the comfort it gave him amidst the clamor of his own thoughts.

"...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. According to the prophecy that Grandmother Queen tells Raami at the beginning of the novel, "There will remain only so many of us as rest in the shadow of a banyan tree." What does the prophecy mean to Raami when she first hears it? How does her belief in the prophecy change by the end of the novel? After reading, what does the title of this novel mean to you?

  2. Tata tells Raami, "The problem with being seven - I remember myself at that age - is that you're aware of so much, and yet you understand so little. So you imagine the worst." Discuss Raami's impressions as a seven-year-old. How much is she aware of, and how much (or little) does she understand?

  3. Review the scene in which Raami tells the Kamapibal her father's real name. How ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about In the Shadow of the Banyan. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Books about the Cambodian Genocide
I have never read a novel about Cambodia's genocide but I am of an age that I remember the news saying that Cambodia would fall when we left Vietnam. - sallyg

How did everyone like the ending??
I liked the ending and I'm glad they made the choice to leave by crossing the border into Thailand, not Vietnam. I thought the helicopter part was a nice touch since the Khmer Rouge was anti machine and it was a machine that brought them to safety. - booksnob

How do Raami and her family's Buddhist faith help them endure life under the Khmer Rouge?
I found the belief in Buddhism through out the book but more a culture belief than a religious belief. - sallyg

How do the Organization’s policies and strategies evolve over the course of the novel?
The people in the organization seemed untrained and without much leadership, and since they were given a little power, it went to their heads and they felt they could do whatever it is they wished. - terri

How does Raami's belief in the prophecy change by the end of the novel?
My interpretation of it is there is only so much room, only so many people can enjoy the shadow of the Banyan. Not every soul will continue to survive which was how Raami felt toward the end of the book. - terri

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Reviews

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Raami is the perfect vehicle for telling the horrific tale of Cambodia's genocide. Through her voice, Rattner is able to whittle down a complex multi-layered story to its basic essence. This is not an epic Killing Fields kind of a story. But in detailing the effects of the genocide on one family and by narrating it through one child's perspective, the effect is just as searing. Largely autobiographical in nature, the novel must have served as a cathartic release for Rattner who has said she painted over only some of the details in the story. Like Raami, Rattner too suffered the after-effects of polio, although unlike Raami, she was five when the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh. Rattner has said she "wanted to articulate something more universal, more indicative... of the human experience - our struggle to hang on to life, our desire to live, even in the most awful circumstances." That Raami triumphs above such horrific tragedy, spirit largely intact, is proof that humanity wins in the end.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review Members Only (1110 words).

Media Reviews
Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review. A hauntingly powerful novel imbued with... the devastation of monumental loss and the spirit of survival.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Often lyrical, sometimes a bit ponderous: a painful, personal record of Cambodia's holocaust.

Library Journal

This tale of physical and emotional adversity grips readers without delving into the graphic nature of the violence that occurred at the time... Knowing that the story was culled from Ratner's experiences as a child brings a sense of immediacy to this heartrending novel likely to be appreciated by many readers.

Author Blurb Chris Cleave, author of Little Bee
This is a masterpiece that takes us to the highs and lows of what human beings can do in this life, and it leaves us, correspondingly, both humbled and ennobled.

Author Blurb Naomi Benaron, author of Running the Rift
In a book rich with Buddhist teachings, the mythology of Cambodia, and the natural beauty of her world, Ratner weaves a moving tribute not only to her father and family but to victims of all genocides - past, present, and future.

Reader Reviews
CarolK

Fictional Memoir
With a poetic voice, Ratner plunges us into this personal trial of a royal family wrenched from their home in Phnon Penh, Cambodia, during the late seventies; a time of revolution. Robbed of her childhood, the narrator, seven year old Raami, brings ...   Read More

Nancy Craig

In the Shadow of the Banyon
First time novelist Vaddey Ratner captured my heart and senses in this novel based on her childhood in Cambodia. Her story transcends any news story you might read on the Khmer Rouge atrocities and events of the time. Told through the voice of seven ...   Read More

Kath

Marvelous book
From the first page, I was drawn in by the lyrical writing of the author and mesmerized as the narrator, eight year old Raami, remembered the years when the Khmer Rouge destroyed individuals, towns and villages, and a whole country. The cruelties of...   Read More

Rebecca

A Soulful, Special Book
I loved this book! It is a unique story and truly written from the heart.I have recommended it to several people of various ages and is one of those books that I hate to loan out because I liked it so much that I'd like to have it on hand for house ...   Read More

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A Look at the Khmer Rouge

Before the Khmer Rouge (pronounced ki-mer roouze, effectively translating as Red Cambodians) wreaked havoc all over Cambodia and killed approximately one quarter of the country's seven million people, they were mostly a fringe communist guerrilla group operating in the jungles in the north of the country. Early in the 70s, then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk was deposed in a coup and, to retain support, he decided to seek the Khmer Rouge's help. This one move granted the group legitimacy and soon the Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Pol Pot, became fairly popular in the villages and then slowly made their way into the cities.

Pol Pot Pol Pot had grand plans - he decided that Cambodians didn't require education or religion. All the country ...

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