Diana (Bever) Barber's Reviews > In the Shadow of the Banyan

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
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Jul 06, 12

Read from June 10 to 22, 2012

Stellar. I must admit that I was excited and apprehensive when I received this as an Advance Reader's Edition through Goodreads. I wasn't sure what to think of a fictional account of real-life experiences during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia (beginning 1975). I've read a number of books about human suffering during political movements that were supposed to help the people (e.g. WWII, Vietnam, US-American Indian "re-education," etc.), but I had never yet read one about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge. How could I trust the narrative of a woman who chose to write her account as a fictional representation? This woman was only five years old when the Revolutionary Army marched into the capital city, what could she possibly have to say that is truthful and accurate? I found myself distrusting the book from the beginning, and so I struggled to really dive in. Somewhere in the middle of the book, I met a woman who had also left the capital city of Cambodia during the same time that Ms. Ratner and her family did. In sharing her story (including the murder of her husband and the death of her infant girl), she ratified Ms. Ratner's narrative. By the end of the book, I was more than hooked. I wanted to know MORE. Fortunately, the editors provided that by providing "Author's Note," "Acknowledgements," and "A Conversation with Vaddey Ratner" at the back of the book. Ms. Ratner has made it on my list of "People I would love to meet someday."

Vaddey Ratner had been a privileged member of royalty before she and her family were exiled from their home and eventually from each other. She deftly weaves a beautiful story of anguish and endurance, drawing on the mature experiences and painful memories of adult survivors in her circle of relations, filling in the gaps where her own memories could not be entirely trusted or were found wanting. I came to understand and appreciate that Ms. Ratner chose to write "In the Shadow of the Banyan" as a fictional narrative, in order to revive her own ghosts as they might appear, without having to worry about keeping them marching in exact order. By so doing, she could make minor adjustments to her journey and experiences, without damaging the integrity of her and her family's collective remembrances. This is definitely a must-read book. Watch for it in August this year.
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