Author: Vaddey Ratner
Title: In the Shadow of the Banyan
Smoke was everywhere, as black as the soldiers' clothes. On sidewalks, books and papers burned in piles. Ashes flew up into the air, like burnt butterflies. I wondered why they were called Khmer Rouge--"Red Khmer." There was nothing red about them ... I wondered what they were really. Soldiers or peasants? Children or adults? They looked neither like devarajas nor rakshasas, the mythical gods and demons I'd imagined them to be; in those plain black clothes they looked more like a race of shadows, each one a repetition of the others.Raami is seven when the Khmer Rouge overrun Phnom Penh and her family's life of royal privilege quickly comes to an end. They're forced to leave their home in Phnom Penh and flee to the country. Then the Kamaphibal, the leaders of the Revolution, make them move again. And when they discover that her father is Sisowath Ayuravann, a well-educated prince and poet, they take him away. Raami, her mother, and her little sister are soon separated from the rest of their family and sent to a poor village among the rice paddies to work. Raami is bereft without her father, as is her beautiful mother. Somehow they must learn to survive in a Cambodia they no longer recognize.
Lightning struck, the sky roared, and the night cried a giant's tears, thunderous and inconsolable.Ratner based her novel on her own life and her writing is magical. If I tried to write down all of my favorite passages I'd end up copying the entire book. It makes my own words feel so inadequate. Saying that this novel is compelling and powerful; sad, but somehow still full of hope, does not do it justice. Ratner's writing is storytelling at its finest.
Needless to say, I loved this book. I was lucky enough to visit Cambodia six years ago and reading this book brought it all back: theBuddhist temples, the tall gum trees, the thatched houses on stilts, the ox-carts, the rice fields, and most of all, the resilient people. This is definitely one of the best books I've read all year!
Words, you see, allow us to make permanent what is essentially transient. Turn a world filled with injustice and hurt into a place that is beautiful and lyrical.