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#451 ~ In the Shadow of the Banyan


In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

Published by: Simon & Schuster

Published on: August 7, 2012

Page Count: 336

Genre: Historical Fiction

My Reading Format: ARC sent to me by the publisher for consideration.

Available Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, and eBook


My Review

Raami is 7 years old when the Khmer Rouge takes control of Cambodia. Until then, Raami enjoyed a happy childhood with her parents, descendants of the Cambodian royal family in Phnom Penh. Her largest obstacle was having to wear a leg brace as a result of polio. Otherwise, she is adored by her parents and, like any oldest child, she puts up with her baby sister. Until the soldier from the Khmer Rouge comes to their gate and demands that they leave their estate, the revolution was theoretical to Raami. It soon became very real as her family was forced to leave  behind everything they’ve known and try to survive as a family under the watchful eye of the Organization.

Raami, the daughter of a poet and the Tiger Prince, grew up surrounded by stories. They explained the consequences of her polio, her parent’s relationship, and life in general. It was the best way her father could communicate with her about the troubled times in which they lived. Her father, although part of the royal family, sympathized with the Khmer Rouge philosophically. He had a rude awakening when he  discovered exactly how Communism would run its course in Cambodia. It was horrifying how family life and human connection were fought hard. They threatened the ever changing whims of a young dictatorship. As time drew on, it became clear that there was no concrete plan for making life better. Those making the decisions, especially as they pertained to agriculture, were equally guilty of living almost entirely in a philosophical realm. That the Organization believed that they could conquer Mother Nature as they did Cambodia betrayed their ideological blindness more than anything else.

Raami is a character who will capture your heart. She is caught between so many forces, trying to make sense of a world that has gone mad. As disaster hits her family, time and again she feels responsible. My heart ached for her. If only parents and adults could see inside the tiny hearts of children and find the words to let them know when it is the adults who have made a mess of things. It was a sad thing to witness Raami grow up before her time with such burdens surrounding her. Yet there is a strength to her character that will keep your hope alive for her even when she is losing it for herself.

Though I’ve heard of Pol Pot, I really had no knowledge of Cambodia or it’s struggles until reading this book. Vaddey Ratner made Cambodia following the Khmer Rouge revolution come alive. I could almost hear the jungle and feel the humidity as the Cambodian people labored to build up the land to conquer the monsoons. While Raami, the book’s narrator, seemed far too mature for her years early on in the book, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the book. It fit in that she was the daughter of a poet and intellectual. As I am just a year or two younger than Raami, I felt so protective of her. I hoped that simply by reading the pages I could be there with her while the Organization felt that she was better off unsupervised. I have no idea if I could have survived the way that she did under the circumstances. In the Shadow of the Banyan is lyrical, informative, and an excellent read. This is historical fiction at its finest.

16 Comments

  • At 2012.08.07 09:06, Julie Merilatt said:

    I’m glad you were able to form more of a connection with Raami than I was. I just couldn’t quite bond with her… Hope you’re having fun at the beach!

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    • At 2012.08.08 09:06, Jennifer said:

      I’m sorry it didn’t work for you. We are having a great time at the beach. Today’s our last full day and we’re planning on making the most of it. 🙂

    • At 2012.08.07 12:07, Jennifer said:

      Hi Jennifer…another Jennifer here 😉 I’m so looking forward to reading In the Shadow of the Banyan. It’s on my ever teetering pile of books to be read.

      I’ve been poking around your blog and have to say I’m kinda in love with it!

      • At 2012.08.08 09:07, Jennifer said:

        Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope you pick up and love this book as much as I did. It could be a Jennifer thing. 🙂

      • At 2012.08.07 13:52, pburt said:

        Sounds like a good read. Have you read The Disappeared by Kim Echlin? It looks at Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge from a different angle. I thought it was quite good. It was nominated for the 2009 Giller Prize and I thought it was much better than the eventual winner.

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        • At 2012.08.08 09:10, Jennifer said:

          I will definitely add The Disappeared to my TBR! I would like to read as much about Cambodia as I can now. Thanks for the recommendation!

        • At 2012.08.07 13:56, Sandy said:

          This book sounds very similar to “First They Killed My Father” which I listened to on audio awhile back. I had some issues with that memoir, primarily what was “remembered” and the emotions of a five year old. But the facts are horrific. For some additional info on this period in time, watch “The Killing Fields”.

          • At 2012.08.08 09:12, Jennifer said:

            I can see what you mean about the “remembered” memoir of a former five year old. I think that’s why I liked this novel as much as I did. It gave me a true sense of place and it was fiction. It drew heavily from the author’s life, but with creativity.

          • At 2012.08.07 14:21, bermudaonion(Kathy) said:

            I learned about this in First They Killed My Father and was just horrified. I’m anxious to read this book.

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            • At 2012.08.08 09:13, Jennifer said:

              I think you’ll really like this book, Kathy.

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                • At 2012.08.08 08:28, Serena said:

                  This book is on my radar….Pol Pot was a very nasty man. Thanks for the review.

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                  • At 2012.08.08 09:14, Jennifer said:

                    What a horrific place and time that was. I thank my lucky stars everyday for living when and where I do.

                  • At 2012.08.08 09:07, Harvee Lau said:

                    I really thought this was a great novel and I was sure everyone would think so too. I was blown away by the beautiful descriptions and the lyrical writing that was a good escape from the many instances of the horrors of the time. I think it made it easier for the reader to digest the facts of what happened.

                    • At 2012.08.09 17:35, Alyce said:

                      I’ve been seeing some very positive reviews out there for this book, so I wasn’t surprised to see that you liked it too. I read a memoir a few years ago about the same time period and it was very powerful (unfortunately I can’t remember the name of it).

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