Jessica Larson-Wang's Reviews > In the Shadow of the Banyan

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
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's review
Aug 29, 2012

it was amazing
Read from September 10 to 12, 2012

This novel is really exceptional. I've read a lot of memoirs written by survivors of the Cambodian genocide so I knew that this would be a difficult read. When I started this novel I read on with almost a sense of dread because I knew that chances were I'd get attached to characters that were not going to make it. I wasn't proven wrong. Afterall, roughly a third of the Cambodian population didn't survive the Pol Pot years. The odds weren't good.

However, what I didn't expect from this novel was the way love and humanity shone through, even in the darkest moments. This book does not read like a catalogue of horrors, the way some other memoirs do. It is lyrical and thoughtful. It is about the unconditional love of parents and children, of brothers, sisters, and families. It is about those unexpected kindnesses even in the midst of great tragedy, of love that grows even when we're faced with terrible sorrow.

This isn't an easy book. I cried several times reading it. The book gets off to a slow start but this helps establish the characters and in the second half events move fairly quickly, with the author perhaps wisely realizing that 2 years into the Khmer Rouge regime the reader is already reaching his/her emotional limit. Even writing that last sentence feels like such a privilege, since so many had to live through it and they didn't get a merciful fast forward at the halfway mark. As difficult as it is, as raw and real as the emotions in evokes are, this is a book very worth reading.

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