How is it that so much of this bleak novel is full of beauty, even joy?... As a work of fiction, In the Shadow of the Banyan is less a testament to atrocity than a reconciliation with the past. At one point, Raami’s nanny tells her that stories “are like footpaths of the gods. They lead us back and forth across time and space and connect us to the entire universe.” What is remarkable, and honorable, here is the absence of anger, and the capacity—seemingly infinite—for empathy.
Ligaya Mishan - New York Times Book Review
The horrors committed by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, as experienced by one extremely resilient girl. A brutal novel, lyrically told.
O, The Oprah Magazine
(Starred review.) The struggle for survival is relayed with elegance and humility in Ratner’s autobiographical debut novel set in Khmer Rouge–era Cambodia. Raami is seven when civil war erupts, and she and her family are forced to leave Phnom Penh for the countryside. As minor royalty, they’re in danger; the Khmer Rouge is systematically cleansing the country of wealthy and educated people. Escaping their Phnom Penh home aboard a rusty military vehicle, a gold necklace is traded for rice, and literacy can mean death; “They say anyone with glasses reads too much... the sign of an intellectual.” Amid hunger, the loss of much of her family, and labor camp toil, Raami clings to the beauty that her father has shown her in traditional mythology and his own poetry. Raami’s story closely follows that of Ratner’s own: a child when the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975, she endured years under their rule until she and her mother escaped to the United States in 1981. This stunning memorial expresses not just the terrors of the Khmer Rouge but also the beauty of what was lost. A hauntingly powerful novel imbued with the richness of old Cambodian lore, the devastation of monumental loss, and the spirit of survival.
Ratner's tale of what happens to seven-year-old Raami when the Khmer Rouge take over Cambodia is based on personal experience, though she herself was only five at the time, eventually arriving in America as a refugee in 1981. A huge in-house favorite.
Her heartrending, mournful tale depicts the horrors of thekilling fields and the senselessness of the violence there while still managingto capture small, beautiful moments…By countering the stark and abject realityof her experience with lyrical descriptions of the natural beauty of Cambodiaand its people, Ratner has crafted an elegiac tribute to the Cambodia she knewand loved.
(Starred review.) Ratner's avowedly autobiographical first novel describes her family's travails during the genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the late 1970s.... For four years, one terrible event follows another, with small moments of hope followed by cruelty and despair.... 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. Often lyrical, sometimes a bit ponderous: a painful, personal record of Cambodia's holocaust.
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