In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

Published by Simon & Schuster, August ****

Ratner effectively shares her own experience during the Communist Revolution in Cambodia in the 1970’s through this novel, using the character of Raami to reflect her own memories.  This offers a unique perspective through the innocent eyes of a child who doesn’t understand what’s happening – she can only observe the chaos and adult conversations of a situation that is beyond her comprehension.  Though she doesn’t directly witness extreme amounts of violence aside from a few deaths, the end demonstrates the aftermath of the ravaged landscape.  There is a palpable sense of loss throughout, and Raami’s narrative often relies on Buddhist and Cambodian mythology to help her indentify with her circumstances.

Ignorant soldiers spew Communist rhetoric and the constant threat of starvation, extreme work, and execution is always present, especially for Raami and her royal family.   Despite the hardships, Raami finds beauty in the world around her and inspiration from the words of her poet father.  Ratner succeeds in painting a terrifying landscape and a gorgeous country.  The characters were well-written, but I never felt a personal connection with them.  Perhaps it was because Ratner was referencing her unreliable memories as a young child, or wanted to keep a little distance from her traumatic experiences, but I felt there was a subtle something lacking.  Having not known a single thing about the Cambodian revolution, this offers a nice glimpse at the ruin it created.  I guess I was expecting more emotional tragedy and brutality.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.

Stay tuned, dear readers, I will be offering a copy of this book for giveaway in the coming week or so…

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