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In the Shadow of the Banyan    by Vaddey Ratner order for
In the Shadow of the Banyan
by Vaddey Ratner
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Americans have had few first-hand stories of what it was like in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 during the Khmer Rouge regime. This novel is an achingly beautiful tale of that very revolutionary time.

Told from the perspective of a young girl whose father is a prince-poet, the story shelters us from much of the atrocity, but still, since Raami and her extended family are forced to leave Phnom Penh for hard labor in the countryside, we quickly learn about the evil that Raami's father is trying to get her to see beyond. 'I told you stories to give you wings, Raami, so that you would never be trapped by anything your name, your title, the limits of your body, this world's suffering.'

What begins for many as an idealized regime change quickly becomes a situation in which uneducated leaders learn to inflict their frustration on others in their power. In these extremely harsh circumstances, dying of starvation or supposed insubordination becomes commonplace, and Raami sees her loving family cut down one by one until she finally realizes that death must be her only future.

With passages of heartrending beauty, author Ratner shows us how Raami, through her knowledge of Cambodian lore and growing understanding of her father's stories, is able to make child-like sense of how she can survive the terrible world she is thrown into. Ratner's success is all the more admirable since the novel is autobiographical. Both Raami's and Ratner's father have left an unforgettable legacy.

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