In 1975, the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia. Along with this power shift, the entire population was forced to leave the cities, to live as peasants. But this regime was as brutal as its politics was wrong. The author, Vaddey Ratner, was a young five year old girl from a noble family during this time. In the Shadow of the Banyan is her story, in novel form.
I’m sure I won’t be the first to compare this book to First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung. While the Ung book is a harrowing memoir, Ratner’s book takes us to another plane. For despite the horror, little Raami’s father, the Tiger Prince, attempts to soften these blows with love, beauty and hope.
“Perhaps it’s natural for a father, for every parent, to see in his child all that’s unspoiled and good. But if you can, Raami, I want you to see it in yourself. No matter what ugliness and destruction you may witness around you, I want you always to believe that the tiniest glimpse of beauty here and there is a reflection of god’s abode. It is real, Raami. There exists such a place, such sacred space. You have only to envision it, to dare to dream it. It is within you, within all of us.”
I was so touched by her characters and by their story. It’s not only a notable work for the history it portrays, but more importantly, it tells the story of humanity in the midst of cruelty and that hope is the wings that lifts us above despair.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012