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In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel Hardcover – August 7, 2012
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"Ratner's remarkable debut novel transforms her childhood experiences into the finest of literary fiction . . . A powerful testament to the tenacity of love and family in the face of unspeakable inhumanity."--Indie Next List Great Reads
“Lyrical . . . It’s Raami’s mother 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 (Editors' Choice))
“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)
“Lyrical . . . a love story to her homeland and an unflinching account of innocents caught in the crossfire of fanaticism.” (Parade)
“A tale of perseverance, hope and the drive toward life.” (The Washington Post)
“Humanity . . . shines through in her storytelling.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“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 Magazine)
“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)
“One of those brave novels of resilience and the power of love that surface once or twice in a generation, like Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.” (Buffalo News)
"Although Ratner provides a glimpse into what was going on in the country, this is Raami's story. Her personality and experience gives the novel its power. . . . Although she doesn't shy away from violence, loss and grief, she pays equal attention to small moments of compassion and natural beauty." (Columbus Dispatch)
“Exquisite.” (Providence Journal)
“Vaddey Ratner's debut novel bears witness to the atrocities of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge and is not an easy read, but it captures the beauty and resilience of the human spirit.” (Yahoo! Shine)
“Ratner’s engrossing presentation of this tragedy is a remarkable achievement. This is one of those novels that lead writers like me to believe that real truth is best found in fiction.” (Washington Independent Review of Books)
“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.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Often lyrical, sometimes a bit ponderous: a painful, personal record of Cambodia’s holocaust.” (Kirkus Reviews (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)
“Her heartrending, mournful tale depicts the horrors of thekilling fields and the senselessness of the violence there while still managing to capture small, beautiful moments…By countering the stark and abject realityof her experience with lyrical descriptions of the natural beauty of Cambodia and its people, Ratner has crafted an elegiac tribute to the Cambodia she knewand loved.” (Booklist)
“Vividly told . . . a message of hope and [a] reminder of the depth of human spirit. Stories like this reach deep inside us and are, dare I say, life-changing?” (Bookreporter.com)
“Filled with gut-wrenching atrocities, this surprising story will transport you to a tragic time in history and show you how survival can depend on faith in family and memories that give you wings.” (Bookpage)
“Evocative, lyrical. . . . Accessible and profoundly moving, In the Shadow of the Banyan is destined to become a classic.” (School Library Journal)
“Ratner's touching and beautifully written In the Shadow of the Banyan celebrates the human spirit, the power of story and imagination and the triumph of good over evil.” (ShelfAwareness.com)
“In the Shadow of the Banyan is one of the most extraordinary and beautiful acts of storytelling I have ever encountered. . . . This book pulls off the unsettling feat of being—at the same time—utterly heartbreaking and impossibly beautiful. There are some moments in this story that are among the most powerful in literature. This is a masterpiece that takes us to the highs and lows of what human beings can do in this life, and it leaves us, correspondingly, both humbled and ennobled.” (Chris Cleave, author of Little Bee)
“Vaddey Ratner’s novel is ravishing in its ability to humanize and personalize the Cambodian genocide of the 1970’s. She makes us look unflinchingly at the evil that humankind is capable of, but she gives us a child to hold our hand—an achingly believable child—so that we won’t be overwhelmed. As we have passed from one century of horrors and been plunged into a new century giving us more of the same, In the Shadow of the Banyan is a truly important literary event.” (Robert Olen Butler, author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain)
“‘Words . . . turn a world filled with injustice and hurt into a place that is beautiful and lyrical,’ says Vaddey Ratner’s father in her stunning debut novel, and this is exactly what she has accomplished. Ratner has managed to conflate a child’s magical and indomitable hope with the horrific experience of the Khmer Rouge genocide to create a work that at once both deeply wounds and profoundly uplifts. With lyrical and breathtaking prose, Ratner plunges us into the midst of the nightmare that was thrust upon her, and yet, even amidst the darkness of starvation and violence, she never abandons us to despair. She always offers us the glimmering thread of hope and of love. She offers us wings. In a book rich with Buddhist teachings, the mythology of Cambodia, and the natural beauty of her world, Ratner weaves a moving tribute not only to her father and family but to victims of all genocides—past, present, and future.” (Naomi Benaron, author of Running the Rift)
“An astonishing book, unlike anything else that has emerged from Cambodia and its tragedies. In contrast to other books dealing with the Khmer Rouge period, this is not a memoir—it is literature, and literature of a high order.” (Philip Short, author of Pol Pot)
“A compelling new voice in world literature. Through the coming of age story of a sensitive girl, Ratner dramatizes both the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge and the emotional cost of survival.” (Bharati Mukherjee, author of Miss New India)
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.
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Top Customer Reviews
At least one person gave this book a poor review because it was written by a princess, one of the class who inherited their wealth, did nothing to improve the quality of life for their subjects, yet insisted upon being called “Highness.” Contrary to Ayn Rand, these are not the Atlases of society, but rather the sort of people that make irruptions of social chaos more-or-less inevitable. However, rich people aren’t usually evil, just complacent, and incapable of understanding that their wealth is a matter of privileged circumstances rather than something they have earned and deserve. However, this does not apply to Vaddey Ratner. She has her Grandmother Queen suggest that it was their karma, and her mother admit that “this Revolution was an old blaze reignited, possibly centuries of injustice manifesting itself like a raging inferno.” Social stratification makes a society ripe for the sociopathic element to emerge and stage a revolution. It takes very little sophistication to use a machine gun, and ruthless leaders can easily manipulate people by capitalizing upon their sense of social injustice. It is indeed odd that people are so easily manipulated by ignorant evil. Successful social revolutions need to be more like evolution than war, but this requires wisdom from the enlightened members of society.
Unfortunately, in present day Cambodia, very little has been learned. Workers are murdered when they strike for a living wage. Many of the most attractive young women, who have little chance at getting an education, turn to selling sex rather than submitting to the worse indignity of factory work.
Ratner uses lines of poetry and flowery prose to create a serene atmosphere that is completely counter to devastation of the events taking place in the story. This gives the story a real sense of Buddhism; a peacefulness that's hard to describe concerting the topic. It can be surreal at times. Another thing I liked is the narrator, a child, is not the typical precocious child wise bound her years, instead her account reads like that of a child forced to grow up by her circumstances. It is a more adult like voice, but I think this only adds to her lose of innocence and her childhood. This is a beautifully written and heartbreaking account of the ugliness we humans can inflict on one another.
On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge, an army of ruthless thugs, entered Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and put an end to life as Cambodians knew it. Declaring a new government, the black uniformed revolutionaries killed government officials and personnel. The Khmer Rouge then set out their plan to relocate and re-educate the population under the communist dictatorship of Pol Pot.
Informative and well-written.