Review Of In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

 From the publisher: 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.

My review:

This is the heartbreaking story of Raami, a young girl growing up in Phnom Penh, Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge uprising. Daughter to a prince, she and her family must keep their former lives secret if they hope to survive. Amidst unspeakable loss and suffering, Raami somehow manages to find strength in the stories and poems of her father, recalling his words, “I told you stories to give you wings, Raami, so that you would never be trapped by anything — your name, your title, the limits of your body, this world’s suffering.”

With beautifully poetic writing, the author takes us by the hand and leads us down this dark path in history, stained with the blood of so many innocent people. I will not lie, this book was very hard to read at times- the suffering and the graphic descriptions were sometimes very overwhelming, and I would have to set the book down and walk away for a while to clear my mind. As if the story were not profound enough, I was taken aback when I found that the events were based on the author’s own life. This story is so heartfelt, so touching, and so painfully heartrending that I needed quite a deal of “quiet time” to take it all in when I had finished reading. The lingering effects of its pages are haunting, and, I’m sure, will never leave me, so I feel confident in saying that this is one of those very rare books that will leave you a different person after you have read it, which, I believe, makes this a very important book.

Suggested for: Mature readers who can tolerate brief scenes of violence and extreme suffering

Rating: 5 stars


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