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IN THE SHADOW OF THE BANYON By Vaddey Ratner September 23, 2012

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading.
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        This is a beautiful and heart-wrenching novel gathered from the author’s memories of 1975 when her family was displaced by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The book was written as a tribute to her father, a poet who disappeared during the turmoil. As always, this librarian will not offer too much of the plot, even though it’s clear that, this being Ratner’s story, she survived the revolutionary experiment that dislodged families from their homes and each other and worked many of them to death digging ditches and planting rice. Others were starved or executed, and nearly a third of Cambodia’s total population died.

         Ratner’s is riches to rags story. Before she was wealthy, having food, a nice home and the additional blessing of a large extended family. After the coup and relocation, she was lucky to one meal a day during her four years of forced labor. This book is a reminder to us all of how fortunate we are. My heart still aches as I recall certain phrases, such as “To keep you is no gain, to kill you is no loss,” one of the phrases often related to the workers by the young misguided soldiers who monitored them. This is a selection suited to adult and young adult readers alike. Teens will be able to relate to young Raami, the book’s heroine, as although only five years old when the book begins, she is forced to grow up not only quickly, but immediately.

        The writing in this novel is superb. And I’d like to mention here that it was undoubtedly written as a novel because the author had only her memories on which she could rely for material, so chose to admit to having to also dig into her imagination to connect parts of the tale. This is the memoir of an incredible person who overcame enormous obstacles. She came to America in 1981, not knowing any English, and then went on to become a summa cum laude graduate of Cornell University. Reading the poetry of her words, even while describing the worst of horrors, makes the reader cringe and wonder how many rare and exceptional people did not make it through this ordeal. This is one selection the Lycan Librarian is happy to recommend highly.

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