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In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Vaddey Ratner
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (590 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $11.99
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Kindle Edition $11.99  
Library Binding $28.20  
Paperback $13.87  
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Book Description

Told from the tender perspective of a young girl who comes of age amid the Cambodian killing fields, this searing first novel—based on the author’s personal story—has been hailed by Little Bee author Chris Cleave as “a masterpiece…utterly heartbreaking and impossibly beautiful.”

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.

Editorial Reviews


"Ratner's lyrical first novel finds love and surprising humanity in a horrifying setting... The book's 7-year old heroine is a tenacious dreamer... It's Raami's mother, though, who will stay in your heart... Somehow she retains the will to survive... fiercely telling her daughter, "Remember who you are."--People Magazine (People's Pick)

"Lyrical . . . It's Raami'smother who will stay in your heart . . . Somehow she retains the will to survive and the strength to help others, fiercely telling her daughter, 'Remember who you are.'"--People, four stars

"How is it that so much of this bleak novel is full of beauty, even joy? . . . What is remarkable, and honorable, here is the absence of anger, and the capacity--seemingly infinite--for empathy."--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

"Unputdownable."--Better Homes and Gardens

"For all the atrocities witnessed and hardships experienced, Ratner's story is filled to an even larger extent with opportunism and beauty. Ratner's gift is her exquisite descriptions of the careful details of daily life . . . Ratner describes her desire to memorialize the loved ones she lost with an enduring work of art. She has done just that; hers is a beautiful tale with considerable poetry and restraint. In the Shadow of the Banyan is an important novel, written by a survivor with unexpected grace and eloquence."--Audrey

"The powerful story of how even the most brutal regime lacked the power of a father's love for his daughter."--The Daily Beast

"Gorgeous . . . Ratner bears witness to the unyielding human spirit."--Washingtonian

"This stunning memorial expresses not just the terrors ofthe Khmer Rouge but also the beauty of what was lost. A hauntingly powerfulnovel imbued with the richness of old Cambodian lore, the devastation ofmonumental loss, and the spirit of survival."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"An emotionally moving story . . . This tale of physical and emotional adversity grips readers without delving into the graphic nature of the violence that occurred at the time . . . Ratner's contemplative treatment of her protagonist and the love shared among the family stands in stark contrast to the severe reality they faced each day to survive. Knowing that the story was culled from Ratner's experiences as a child brings a sense of immediacy to this heartrending novel likely to be appreciated by many readers."--Library Journal

About the Author

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 laude from Cornell University. She lives in Potomac, Maryland.

Product Details

  • File Size: 4547 KB
  • Print Length: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (August 7, 2012)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0064CMKNS
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,271 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
176 of 183 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I first learned of this book when I read the first chapter in a Simon & Schuster 2012 releases preview. I knew then I needed to read the rest of the book as soon as I could. I now have, and it is an amazing book.

It is amazing that this book was even written. The author was five when the Khmer Rouge overran Cambodia. (Which is the story, of course.) While a million or more died, including many of her relatives, she survived. She made it to America at eleven, not knowing English. But she graduated summa cum laude from Cornell. Amazing, indeed, that a mind of this quality survived to bear witness to the horror.

Even more amazing is how well she has learned to write in an adopted language. She puts many native writers to shame. In fact, she brings to mind Conrad as a non-native writer who has made English her own. And comparisons to Conrad I do not make frivolously.

While beautifully, even gloriously, written, I can't say this book is easy to read. Some parts soar, but other parts describe horrible, shocking, conditions under the Khmer Rouge. The writing is wonderful, but the truth is terrible. I cried many times reading this book.

A native English writer myself, I am almost at a loss for words in describing this book. The author captures her love for her father and his learning, her pain at his loss, and the horrors of her survival under the Khmer Rouge, in terms so wonderful that I feel inadequate to the task of summarizing them. I envy her prose. It is glorious.

Much recent American fiction follows the line of: I didn't get what I wanted, so life is unfair, boo hoo. If you want to understand true human misery and struggle, it is revealed in this book.
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136 of 150 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book about a horrific slice of history July 17, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In the Shadow of the Banyan is a fictionalized work that parallels author Vaddey Ratner's personal history: a (minor) royal family of privilege and education is driven from Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge revolution. Told from the perspective of seven-year-old Raami, the novel follows her family through years of toil and labor in the countryside of Cambodia, through monsoons, sickness, and famine. Banyan is suffused with myth and poetry, both of which play a large role in Raami's family. The storytelling is lyrical and rich and it transports the reader to the jungles, riverbanks and rice paddies of Cambodia. Ratner does an amazing job of illustrating both the horror of the genocide and the power of hope.

As beautifully written as the book is, I didn't love it. My personal preference is for stories that are driven by plot or dialog. This book is much more introspective and descriptive. I found myself skipping paragraphs, too anxious to find out what would happen next. (For comparative purposes: I had the same problem with Snow Falling on Cedars.)

Final verdict: Beautiful, but not the right book for me. I don't have the right reading temperament for Ratner's slow and deliberate style.
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61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Based on the real life experiences of the author in the 1970's, this novel is about the horror in Cambodia when the communists took over. Like the author, the main character was a child of the privileged class and when the revolution came she was hurtled into a cruel world of poverty and hunger. Her father was imprisoned and never seen again. Her uncle and cousins were sent off to labor camps to die, her baby sister was stricken with a fever and she and her mother were forced into hard labor in the rice fields. I cringed at the dreadfulness of it all and learned more than I ever wanted to know about this Cambodian genocide in which 1.7 million people (21%) of the population lost their lives.

Written in the first person, through the voice of a young girl, the characters come to life and their suffering is incredibly overwhelming in its depiction of displacement, starvation, slave labor and pain. However, there is also a streak of survival instinct in spite of their world bitterly collapsing around them.

I couldn't put this book down and couldn't take my eyes from the page because it was so well written and brought to life a time and a place and some wonderful unforgettable characters. Certainly, the memory of those who have died and suffered at this sad time in history should never be forgotten.
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserves all the advance praise it's getting June 29, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Vaddey Ratner notes that while fictional, many of this book's events actually happened to her during the Khmer Rouge's Cambodian depredations. She made the right choice writing this as a novel, releasing herself from the perceived bounds of absolute truth - while clearly telling a story based on memory and experience. And, releasing the reader from the sometimes too-close proximity of a memoir's real-life author.

Told in the first-person voice of Raami, a young girl, the narrative captivates, heartbreaks, but never feels overpowering or melodramatic. She is a completely believable child narrator, which is an impressive writing achievement. The narration is in a very personal and direct style that lets the story's events carry all the impact. This is most effective during some terrible early occurrences when she behaves like any child would, leading to bad ends.

This also makes it a difficult book to "love" in the conventional way. A few scenes, because the narration is so all-business, are all the more tragic. You want to reach in and stop the events, because you know this happened - if it didn't happen exactly to Ratner as she wrote it, it surely happened to somebody. So I didn't finish this book impressed with Ratner's literary skill as much as sad for all the tragedies that we forget or never notice.

The Cambodian genocide of 1975-79 was a slow-motion crime, somewhat different than the WWII death camps. People were moved from place to place, with the educated core of society eliminated through famine, disease or execution, as the Khmer Rouge attempted to recreate an entirely agricultural peasant society. I've known about it, but very little from up-close accounts. While not a "true" story, I think this gave a clear picture of what went on. It's horrible.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Just ok
Published 7 days ago by Raymond Beyer
4.0 out of 5 stars great storytelling
my reason for buying was primarily to learn about what happened in Cambodia in the 70s. this book was enlightening and entertaining. great storytelling
Published 7 days ago by L. Galvez
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful writing combined with horrific history
Loved the history combined with beautiful prose. The characters were well defined and believable.
Published 7 days ago by Gina Cox
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read
This is a beautifully told story about a very dark time from a voice that actually experienced it first-hand. Read more
Published 14 days ago by C. Foster
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Extraordinary and tragic: atrocities in my lifetime
Published 15 days ago by Cheryl Chapman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
It was a moving story from start to finish!
Published 25 days ago by Ms. Flowers
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books our bookclub has read in awhile
One of the best books our bookclub has read in awhile. Even though it was sad, it was also hopeful and enlightening. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Joan M. Agosto
5.0 out of 5 stars A Story of Survival
This is a story told by a child whose family is caught up in the Khmer Rouge revolution in Cambodia. They are forced out of their home and treated as slaves with little to eat. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Sidney W. Frost
5.0 out of 5 stars A Moving Story of Survival and Love
Beautifully written, I savored the poetry of words. The book is about the love between members of an aristocratic family doomed in the genocide in Cambodia from 1975-1979. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Lise U. Chase
4.0 out of 5 stars Horrific
And yet mostly true. Hard to comprehend such events and yet the author gives them an almost poetic spin. Great resilience story.
Published 1 month ago by InternationalInHouston
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