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In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel | [Vaddey Ratner]

In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2012 Vaddey Ratner (P)2012 Simon & Schuster

What the Critics Say

"This stunning memorial expresses not just the terrors ofthe 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)

"Vaddey Ratner's novel is ravishing in its ability to humanize and personalize the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s. 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)

"Often lyrical, sometimes a bit ponderous: a painful,personal record of Cambodia's holocaust." (Kirkus Reviews)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.2 (242 )
5 star
 (114)
4 star
 (87)
3 star
 (25)
2 star
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Overall
4.3 (204 )
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4.3 (203 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Heather 11-11-12
    Heather 11-11-12 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    Story
    "Amazing Book"
    Any additional comments?

    Beautifully written book with many lessons- lessons in history, survival, government, corruption, tragedy, and the ability to find beauty in the midst of unspeakable horrors and cruelty. And all based on true story. I appreciated every minute of this book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul HARRISBURG, PA, United States 11-10-12
    Paul HARRISBURG, PA, United States 11-10-12 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    Story
    "wanted to like it but didn't"
    What would have made In the Shadow of the Banyan better?

    The story is supposed to be from the point of view of a 7 yr old child but I don't know any 7 yr old that would have this degree of maturity in the way she viewed and related to her world.


    What could Vaddey Ratner have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    If the narrator were a teenager the book would have been more believable.


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Greta Lee?

    I didn't like the narrator. There was way too much 'punctuation' in her voice. Between her way of reading and the prose of the book I often found my attention wandering.


    Any additional comments?

    I really wanted to like this book as I know it is autobiographical and the author lived through a horrific time but the main character was just not realistic and the narrator of the book irritated me.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathy Forestville, CA, United States 10-24-12
    Kathy Forestville, CA, United States 10-24-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
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    3
    3
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    Story
    "Such a sad story, but so beautifully written!"
    Would you consider the audio edition of In the Shadow of the Banyan to be better than the print version?

    I haven't read the print version.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Raami of course! The story was told through her brave little-girl eyes.


    What does Greta Lee bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Greta Lee brought just the right amount of variation in tone between characters, and narrated the exceptional prose with such tenderness.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The death of the children in the ditch during the storm, and the uncle's subsequent death.


    Any additional comments?

    I intend to read/listen to all of Vaddey Ratner's books... Hopefully, they aren't all a sad as this one.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janet Willut FOUNTAIN VALLEY, CA, US 10-16-12
    Janet Willut FOUNTAIN VALLEY, CA, US 10-16-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
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    3
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    "Incredible time in history"
    Would you consider the audio edition of In the Shadow of the Banyan to be better than the print version?

    Learned from a different perspective what the people of Cambodia lived through during this time in history. A lesson in philosophy, courage and fortiude.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Meryl H. Ruth CUMBERLAND CENTER, MAINE, US 10-13-12
    Meryl H. Ruth CUMBERLAND CENTER, MAINE, US 10-13-12 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    Story
    "Hell Through the Eyes of the Innocent"

    This is a disturbing tale written in beautiful prose. I am grateful for the information I gleaned by listening to this tale, a partial powerful autobiography. Knowing this truth is completely moving.

    For me there seems to be an incongruity with the first person narrative from a little girl and the sophisticated language (such as her amazing and stunning similes and metaphors) she uses.

    The narrator did sound like a little girl. This worked.

    I found that my favorite part of the audio was the ending which was an epilogue spoken by the author. This made the most sense to me. It was the most moving part of this book. I would rather have listened to her speak about her own life from the start without having turned her story into a novel.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Judy Arlington, VA, United States 10-08-12
    Judy Arlington, VA, United States 10-08-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    4
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    Story
    "Fear, Terror, Hope and Love through a Child's Eyes"

    This autobiographical novel by a member of the Cambodian royal family gave life to the news reports of the takeover of this region by the communists I had read decades ago. The father, whom the narrator lost, had been a prince and a famous poet and taught is handicapped daughter to see the world through his eyes. Despite the horror of seeing her family torn apart and the deprivations that left her homeless, hungry and sometimes alone, this eight-year old sees beauty around her and remembers the images painted by her father. The lyrical nature of the story-telling tied this loving daughter to her father even after their separation and what she fears is his death. Her guilt at having betrayed him because she was proud of who he was is palpable -- perhaps because these events are part of the true story of the author. The book has added dimensions in the unfolding of the painful relation with her own mother and the way the child narrator seeks out love from strangers, while trying to avoid those who would cause her further harm.

    Before ordering this book, I read a long interview with the author in The Washington Post and knew about her life. Even this interview did not prepare me fully for the impact of the novel, although it left me wishing I knew more about what was fact and what was fiction.

    This would be a good read even if the novel was not based on the horrible adventures of a small child who had to mature quickly in an environment so foreign to the love and plenty she had known.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris Arlington, TX, United States 10-07-12
    Chris Arlington, TX, United States 10-07-12 Member Since 2003

    Likes any genre so long as it is done well.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Well told. Very wrenching"

    I got a bit put off when I thought it was a novel and not a true story, but this is a technicality. Author took a few liberties with dates, places, etc... but it is her story. It was very well done. Riches->rags->climb back up again.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jodie Pakenham, Australia 10-02-12
    Jodie Pakenham, Australia 10-02-12 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great story"

    A lovely, beautifully written story. What a devastatingly tragic tale. I very much enjoyed this.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Laurie Boulder, CO, United States 09-29-12
    Laurie Boulder, CO, United States 09-29-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
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    "Listening is perfect for this story"

    While reading the novel would be riveting, listening to it performed is a moving, exquisite experience. Hearing the Khmer words woven into the text makes the reader feel more involved in the country and culture. Unlike some of the other works about the toxic revolution in Cambodia, this book does not focus solely on the physical violence, blood, and gore until the end. Even then, it portrays anarchy and evil in a manner that allows the reader to stay with the story. Perhaps this makes the situation more disturbing, if that is possible.

    What emerges is a the portrayal of a gracious and beautiful culture whose destruction is beyond comprehension. However, the grace and hope that is described in the book makes one admire and honor the survivors.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kadgee 09-24-12
    Kadgee 09-24-12 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    21
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    102
    10
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    2
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    Story
    "Life when one accepts"

    Informative-scary-thought provoking - seen through the eyes of a child. Feel it's important to understand the past of each country as the world grows smaller.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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