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
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.