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.
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 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
Rated of 5
by Erica M Superb book As I read this book, I thought of the questions I would ask if I were reading it for my book club - such as how being under the Banyan Tree is a metaphor for the protection of one's family. or how do repressive governments think they are... Read More
Rated of 5
by Louise J Exemplary Writing! The story is written in the first person and told through the eyes of Raami. The words are so beautifully written, a real talent for a first time author. An extraordinary story that takes you to the impossible highs and lows of what human beings... Read More
Rated of 5
by Diane S. In the Shadow of the Banyon This book is beautifully written, my only question is would a seven and eight yr. old have the capacity to relate all these things she had seen? I decided that what she didn't understand at the beginning, after everything she sees and experiences,... 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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