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.
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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
Was the Khmer Rouge really called The Organization?
To build off Christy's comment, in the text, I thought that calling it The Organization worked to enhance the dehumanization of the people--they were not controlled by other People but by an entity. - EmsBooks
What does the title of this novel mean to you?
The interesting thing about Banyan trees is that their seedlings germinate in the cracks and crevices of the existing tree, so that as they grow their roots wrap around the existing trees. The trees intertwine to the point you can't distinguish... - Lisa Hickman
Which of Mama and Papa's stories did you find most memorable?
Although I can't specifically remember any story, I know there were several mentioned by various family members. I enjoyed the stories. I came to believe it was part of the culture to pass on the stories. It was another thing that have them hope. - terri
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).
Starred Review. A hauntingly powerful novel imbued with... the devastation of monumental loss and the spirit of survival.
Starred Review. Often lyrical, sometimes a bit ponderous: a painful, personal record of Cambodia's holocaust.
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.
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.
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.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by 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
Rated of 5
by 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... Read More
Rated of 5
by 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... Read More
Rated of 5
by 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
Rated of 5
by Toby S. poetic and lyrical book about a brutal Cambodian holocaust Vaddey Rattner has written in lovely, poetic prose and poetry an autobiographical novel of her brutally painful childhood during the Khmer Rouge Cambodian Holocaust. I admired this book. It must not have been easy to write about such suffering in... Read More
Rated of 5
by Emily G. Stunning! The best book I read in 2012!
This is one of those rare books that is so real, the characters so alive and personal, that I want to stop reading because it is so painful. It is one of those books so beautifully written, so exquisitely wrought... Read More
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 had grand plans - he decided that Cambodians didn't require education or religion. All the country needed was an agrarian model of society so everyone could eat and survive. This meant of course that many had to be forced into agriculture. The Khmer Rouge...
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