In the Shadow of the Banyan

By Vaddey Ratner
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781451657708, 336pp.)

Publication Date: August 7, 2012

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Selected by Indie Booksellers for the August 2012 Indie Next List
“Ratner's remarkable debut novel transforms her childhood experiences living through the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia into the finest of literary fiction. The story is narrated by the precocious Raami, whose privileged life is shattered when soldiers ravage Phnom Penh and send her aristocratic family to work camps in the countryside. The powerful writing sweeps you along like the broad Mekong River through the years of heartbreaking loss, hard labor, and starvation, and yet somehow, like Raami, you emerge from the book sobered, but with spirit unbroken. A powerful testament to the tenacity of love and family in the face of unspeakable inhumanity.”
-- Caitlin Caufiled, Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA


Description

You are about to read an extraordinary story. It will take you to the very depths of despair and show you unspeakable horrors. It will reveal a gorgeously rich culture struggling to survive through a furtive bow, a hidden ankle bracelet, fragments of remembered poetry. It will ensure that the world never forgets the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, when an estimated two million people lost their lives. It will give you hope, and it will confirm the power of storytelling to lift us up and help us not only survive but transcend suffering, cruelty, and loss.

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 the Khmer Rouge attempts to strip the population of every shred of individual identity, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of her 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 a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.




About the Author

Vaddey Ratner was five years old when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. In 1981 she arrived in the United States as a refugee not knowing English and ultimately went on to graduate summa cum laude from Cornell University. She lives in Potomac, Maryland.




Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. According to the prophecy that Grandmother Queen tells Raami at the beginning of the novel, “There will remain only so many of us as rest in the shadow of a banyan tree.” What does the prophecy mean to Raami when she first hears it? How does her belief in the prophecy change by the end of the novel? After reading, what does the title of this novel mean to you?

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