You are about to read an extraordinary story. It will take you to the very depths of despair and show you unspeakable horrors. It will reveal a gorgeously rich culture struggling to survive through a furtive bow, a hidden ankle bracelet, fragments of remembered poetry. It will ensure that the world never forgets the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, when an estimated two million people lost their lives. It will give you hope, and it will confirm the power of storytelling to lift us up and help us not only survive but transcend suffering, cruelty, and loss.
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 the Khmer Rouge attempts to strip the population of every shred of individual identity, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of her 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 a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.
About Vaddey Ratner
Vaddey Ratner was five years old when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. In 1981 she arrived in the United States as a refugee not knowing English and ultimately went on to graduate summa cum laudefrom Cornell University. She lives in Potomac, Maryland.
Despite the lingering effects of childhood polio, 7-year-old Raami is living a charmed existence. Her father is a minor royal prince and a sensitive, even saintly, poet, a member of the wealthy intelligentsia. Raami and her baby sister, Radana, are cared for by their beautiful young mother and a household of kindly, devoted servants in an atmosphere of privilege and also spiritual grace. Then comes the government overthrow. At first Raami’s father is hopeful that the new leaders will solve the injustice, but soon the new government’s true nature reveals itself. Like most of the city’s residents, Raami’s extended family, including aunts, uncle, cousins and grandmother, are soon ordered out of Phnom Penh. They seek refuge at their weekend house but are driven from there as well. Part of the mass exodus, they try not to draw attention to their royal background, but Raami’s father is recognized and taken away, never to be seen again. Raami, her mother and Radana end up in a rural community staying in the primitive shack of a kindly, childless couple. There is little food and the work is backbreaking. During monsoon season, Radana perishes from malaria, and Raami blames herself because she did not protect her adequately from the mosquitoes. Raami and her mother are ordered to another community. For four years, one terrible event follows another, with small moments of hope followed by cruelty and despair. But her mother never stops protecting Raami, and although both grieve deeply for their lost loved ones, both find untapped stores of resilience. While names are changed (though not Ratner’s father’s name, which she keeps to honor his memory) and events are conflated, an author’s note clarifies how little Ratner’s novel has strayed from her actual memory of events. – Kirkus Reviews
‘Banyan’ Lifts The Veil On Cambodia’s Nightmare
NPR Book Review – August 9, 2012 (Excerpt)
When Michele Bachmann, through the most circumstantial of evidence, recently linked Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin to the Muslim Brotherhood, it wouldn’t have been irrational to think immediately of Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts. Bachmann’s claim was quickly dismissed, bringing a rare moment of sort-of agreement between the parties, but it serves as an important reminder. Paranoid character-smearing is a time-honored tool of totalitarian regimes.
Fortunately, America is still a place where the rule of law, whatever its shortcomings, remains intact. When it’s completely absent, any inconvenient or suspicious person can be labeled an enemy of the state and disappeared on the flimsiest of pretexts.
The Khmer Rouge, who ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, used this tactic to quick and devastating effect, killing millions in a nightmarish four-year span. Families were torn apart, and most of those that didn’t die of starvation or bullets became slaves. Vaddey Ratner was five when her world was destroyed, and her book, In the Shadow of the Banyan, while technically a work of fiction, borrows heavily and directly from her own experience. [Read the full article...]
Lost in the Killing Fields - ‘In the Shadow of the Banyan,’ by Vaddey Ratner
The New York Times Book Review – August 10, 2012 (Excerpt)
When a 7-year-old Cambodian girl named Raami first sets eyes on a member of the Khmer Rouge, clad in black pajamas and sandals made from rubber tires, she pretends he is a tevoda, an angel. “You must be Dark One!” she greets him, and pouts when he won’t join her game. She is shocked to learn that this shabby apparition is a revolutionary soldier, come to order the immediate evacuation of her family to the countryside, along with all the other residents of Phnom Penh. “This is a Khmer Rouge?” she thinks. “Where was the many-named larger-than-life deity I’d expected?”
“In the Shadow of the Banyan,” Vaddey Ratner’s first novel, tells the story of Raami’s struggle to survive under the Khmer Rouge. During its reign of terror from 1975 to 1979, the Communist regime emptied cities, shuttered schools and hospitals, and forced families into labor camps in an attempt to turn Cambodia into an agrarian utopia. Misguided agricultural reforms led to widespread famine. People deemed intellectual — which might mean simply that they wore eyeglasses — were tortured or murdered outright. It is estimated that 1.7 million Cambodians, 25 percent of the population, died. [Read the full article...]
In The ‘Shadow’ Of Death, Stories Survive
NPR Book Review – August 14, 2012 (Excerpt)
When she was just 5 years old, Vaddey Ratner’s comfortable and protected life as the child of an aristocratic Cambodian family came to an abrupt end, as Khmer Rouge soldiers entered the capital, Phnom Penh. They banged on the gates of the family compound and ordered them to leave — it was the start of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror, which left hundreds of thousands of Cambodians dead, including all of Ratner’s family except her mother.
She tells a fictionalized version of her story in her first novel.In the Shadow of the Banyan follows Raami, a little girl from an aristocratic Cambodian family who loses everything when the Khmer Rouge take over.
Ratner says she always felt like an oddball as a child. She was self-conscious because she walked with a limp as a result of polio — an affliction shared by her fictional heroine, Raami. One day, some of the children in Ratner’s extended family began to tease her, saying she was not part of the family, that she must have been found in the street. Ratner ran to her father for comfort. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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