This exquisetly written first novel by Vaddey Ratner is the story of the tragic results of the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970′s, as seen through the eyes of 7 year old Raami. Raami’s father is a part of the royal family and is a poet, who has instilled in Raami a love of stories. Her father returns home one day bringing news of rebellion and chaos in the city. Soon, rebels force Raami and her family–her parents, sister, aunt, uncle, cousins and grandmother–to leave their home. They are taken into the countryside and into forced labor as the Khmer Rouge attempt to eliminate all class and personal identities from the citizens of Cambodia. As her childhood is stripped from her, Raami must learn to live with violence and death–her memories of the stories and poems of her father are the only remainders of her former life, and her courage and strength are what allow her to survive. This compelling, touching and beautifully written story is one that imparts both the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime and the loving memories and stories that Raami treasures of her father and her family.
In the Shadow of the Banyan is based on the author’s own experiences as a 5 year old child in Cambodia during this revolution. Her story is also one of amazing resilience–after surviving 4 years of forced labor and starvation, she and her mother (all that remained of her family) came to the U.S. in 1981 as refugees with no English language skills. In 1990 she graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and graduated with highest honors from Cornell University. Her ability to convey her experiences in the form of a novel is exceptional and moving and, with over 2 million Cambodians killed during this revolution, she tells a story that is important for the world to remember.