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In the Shadow of the Banyan [Paperback]

Vaddey Ratner
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Jun 2013
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 labour, 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.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (6 Jun 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1849837600
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849837606
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 67,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'This is an extraordinary debut, telling a fictionalised version of the author s own experience as a young child caught up in the brutality of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge years. It is narrated from the point of view of Raami, who is seven when civil war shatters her privileged life. Enduring forced labour, starvation and the deaths of her relatives, Raami seeks to cling to her memories. Bringing a savage piece of history vividly to life, this story is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking' - Ceri Radford, Mail on Sunday --Ceri Radford, Mail on Sunday

About the Author

Vaddey Ratner was five years old when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. After four years, having endured forced labor, starvation, and near execution, she escaped while many of her family members perished. In 1981, she arrived in the U.S. as a refugee not knowing English and, in 1990, went on to graduate as her high school class valedictorian. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Cornell University, where she specialized in Southeast Asian history and literature. In recent years she traveled and lived in Cambodia and Southeast Asia, writing and researching, which culminated in her debut novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan. She lives in Potomac, Maryland.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard Hitting but Beautiful 14 Aug 2012
By Sam
Raami is a seven year old girl living happily with her extended family in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, when a revolutionary group called the Khmer Rouge uproot them from everything. Forced out of the capital, Raami and her family are moved from village to village, place to place, brutalised everywhere they go. They are separated from loved ones and forced to work all hours on massive construction projects doomed to failure. Private cooking is banned and farmers made to plant rice out of season, leading to mass starvation and disease. Fear is everywhere as the Khmer Rouge are on the hunt for enemies and Raami must hide her connections to the disposed royal family. One by one, Raami's family members succumb to death and Raami has to fight for even the smallest chance of survival in an increasingly violent world.

In the Shadow of the Banyan makes grim reading at times. The author grew up in the killing fields and explains in the afterword that Raami doesn't go through anything that she herself didn't experience as a child. And there's so much suffering in this book - murder, starvation, exhaustion, disease, horror, fear, all of it is there. Ratner doesn't shy away from the darker side of Cambodian history, but puts it all there on the page and it's impossible as a reader to not feel completely horrified at the atrocities. I've read about genocides and the Chinese 'Great Leap Forward' (which the history in this book reminded me of), but it's rare to come across such a hard-hitting account of tragedy as this. Raami is so relatable that you almost feel as though you are suffering alongside her.

But despite all of this, Ratner somehow manages to balance suffering with enough hope and beauty to make the story bearable.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Harrowing Read 25 Nov 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"In The Shadow of the Banyan," is a novel about a young girl called Raami, essentially based on the author Vaddey Ratner's life during the Khymer Rouge regime in Cambodia over four years. It has been compared to books such as The Other Hand, Half of a Yellow Sun and The Kite Runner; however I found this the most disturbing and depressing of all of these, perhaps because I knew so little of the genocide in Cambodia.

The main problem I have with this book is that it is told from a seven-year-old girl's perspective yet it does not read like that, particularly at the beginning of the story. It is far too mature when compared to say, five-year-old Jack in Room, and whilst I understand that Raami's voice will be somewhat mature due to her royal upbringing, the vocabulary and her analysis of situations just didn't ring true.

I also found this a very slow read as there is a lot of description of lesser events and then many brutally quick deaths. It is so harrowing that I found it was difficult to digest more than a chapter or two in one sitting. I also found that the majority of the characters were very under-developed and I believe it would have read better as a memoir to give the feeling of the emotions of the people more. Overall, Ratner's debut was difficult to get through and could have been so much better, however I am glad tp have read it, if only as a history lesson.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Alun Williams VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When someone has endured great suffering we must allow them to tell their tale in their own way. We do not interrupt them, or tell them that theirs is an old story, or that it merits a better storyteller. So it is difficult to review this book: the author has lived through the Cambodian genocide; as a member of the Cambodian royal family she has a unique perspective on a terrible event. She has lived through the evacuation of Phnom Penh, seen her father taken away to certain death, watched her baby sister die from malaria after she and her mother are separated from her other relatives and sent to a remote village to live as peasants, and endured months of forced labour before the regime is finally toppled by the invading Vietnamese, living in conditions little better than in a Nazi death camp.
Unfortunately, for me at least, the book did not really work. Presented as a novel, it is hard to be sure that any particular incident is being reported very truthfully, and, again because the book is a novel, it has to be judged to on its literary merits, which for me are dubious.
The story is told through the eyes of the seven year old Raami (two years older than the actual author). However, while the insight is perhaps that of a child - there is very little depth to the characterisation, or exploration of what motivates the revolutionaries - the voice of the writing is adult and literary, and, to my mind at least, somewhat overly so. At times I felt as though I was reading a ghost-written biography. I was quite frequently irritated by imagery which seemed obscure or inaccurate, which I did not feel was very natural, but smacked of an author trying much too hard.
I still remember the shock I felt when I watched "The Killing Fields" - I doubt I have ever watched a more harrowing film.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Raami is just seven when civil war breaks out in Cambodia. Torn from her privileged life as a `princess' in a royal family, she is forced into exile with her family, facing hard labour, fear and loss.

Ratner, in an afterword, explains that Raami is a fictionalised version of herself and that this is, effectively, a novelised version of the true story of her life from the age of seven till about twelve, when the Khmer Rouge fled Cambodia in the face of Vietnamese communists.

There is much that is good about this book: the sense of a loving family, Raami's responses to the poetry and mythology of Cambodia as well as her father's stories which sustain her, and all of these bathe the book in a kind of elegiac, golden light.

At the same time, however, I found myself a bit resistant to the erasure of Cambodian politics from the story: the genocide of the Khmer Rouge was, unquestionably, a crime against humanity, and yet - like other forms of south-east Asian `communism' - it didn't spring from nowhere. French colonialism, a monarchical regime based on hierarchy, privilege and superiority in which Raami's own family were implicated (e.g. Tata describes the revolutionaries as `barbarians... bred in the jungle'), created the essential preconditions for the revolution which gave the Khmer Rouge their mercifully brief years of power. Raami's time, for example, working in the rice paddy fields came as a shock to her, as it would to most of us, but we shouldn't forget that that was the expected life of generations of Cambodian `peasants', including children, upon which the colonial, imperial and royalist regimes were built: hard labour for Raami was the normal lifestyle for the majority of Cambodia's rural population.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant
A very moving personal story. The suffering of the people during the Khymer Rouge time will take another generation to eradicate.
Published 28 days ago by June McCausland
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading material
This book was chosen for our April read for our book club. As yet have not started it. It is not a book I would maybe have chosen.
Published 1 month ago by Mrs Margaret Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars A educative harrowing read
I felt very ashamed when reading this book ,the horrifying unimaginable events happening were taking place in the seventies. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ms. Mc Fawcett
4.0 out of 5 stars Cambodia Revolution
Whilst I know of the Cambodia Revolution and know a basic grasp of what happened, I'd never actually read about it in detail. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Gemma
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic book
I thoroughly enjoyed In The Shadow Of The Banyan. It is beautifully written and heart wrenching through out. Read more
Published 2 months ago by SC
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving first person account of life under the Khmer Rouge
Although I didn't fall in love with it immediately, this story grew on me throughout. At the beginning the narrator, 7-year-old Raami, is living a comfortable life as a minor... Read more
Published 2 months ago by BookWorm
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful
This is an amazing book, beautifully written and full of insight into life in a war zone from a child's perspective.
Published 4 months ago by L. Kilner
5.0 out of 5 stars a must read
Moving,engrossing and simply brilliant. A book that is a must read for everyone. Parts of this book often spring to mind and it's one I will remember reading for a long time.
Published 6 months ago by andrewpk
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book group read
Not a book I would have selected but a fascinating insight to a dreadful piece of history. Great for discussion.
Published 6 months ago by Helen Sweet
5.0 out of 5 stars A must buy alongside 'The Art of Hearing Heartbeats' - best books I...
In the Shadow of the Banyan is incredible. Full Stop.
I was at an airport looking for a good read - I travel a lot and so get through one and a bit books per week. Read more
Published 9 months ago by SH-Brighton
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