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Told from the tender perspective of a young girl who comes of age amid the Cambodian killing fields, this searing first novel—based on the author’s personal story—has been hailed by Little Bee author Chris Cleave as “a masterpiece…utterly heartbreaking and impossibly beautiful.” 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 childhoodâ€”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 authorâ€™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.
Reviews Ernest Hemingway wrote, in A Farewell to Arms, "The world breaks everyone, then some become strong in the broken places." Ratner's moving novel tells the story of a 7 year old Cambodian girl, Raami, whose world is broken when the Khmer Rouge take control of her country in the 1970s. As I read this novel, I said to myself, "The author MUST have lived through this. The vivid and detailed descriptions of what Raami and her family endured in what have come to be known as the 'killing fields' could not be the product of research and creativity, alone." When I reached the Author's Note at the end, I discovered that, yes, Ms Ratner's novel is semi-autobiographical. So yes, she did survive.
Ratner was inspired to write about the genocide in her country when she read Elie Wiesel's Night while in high school in the U.S. The story is told in the voice of the little girl, Raami, who walked with a limp due to having had polio. Raami and her family were ordered to leave their home, along with everyone else in Phnom Penh, and were transported to the countryside. This massive uprooting of the urban population was a major component of Khmer Rouge ideology, which was masterminded by members of the intellectual class, and carried out by thousands of uneducated teenage soldiers, recruited from the peasant class. Families were broken apart in an attempt to insure greater loyalty to the Revolution and the "Organization." The people were subjected to forced labor, starvation, horrific living and working conditions, and a systematic campaign of intimidation, brutality and murder.
Ratner is one who "became strong in the broken places." This book is valuable not only because it educates us about what happened in Cambodia, but because it is a testament to humanity amid inhumanity. We come to understand how the bonds of family, the spiritual strength Raami learns from the poetry and stories told to her by her father, along with the dogged determination of her mother, sustain her through unimaginable suffering and loss. When a book drags you through hell, lifts your heart to heaven, brings tears of pain and joy to your eyes, and connects you to the very essence of what it means to be human, it is
a VERY good read!! Thank you, Ms Ratner, for sharing this incredible journey with your readers! _____________________________________________________________
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