In the Shadow of the Banyan

In the Shadow of the Banyan

Book - 2012 | First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
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Told from the tender perspective of a young girl who comes of age amid the Cambodian killing fields, this searing first novel--based on the author's personal story--has been hailed by Little Bee author Chris Cleave as "a masterpiece...utterly heartbreaking and impossibly beautiful."

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.
Publisher: New York ; Toronto : Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781451657708
Branch Call Number: FIC Ratne
Characteristics: 322 pages


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Worth the heartbreak.

Worth the heartbreak.

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DPLcatherine Mar 20, 2018

Painful and beautiful, this is the story of Cambodia during the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge as told by a seven-year-old. A largely autobiographical debut from a talented writer.

Oct 24, 2017

A truly beautiful book and a bit of a cliff hanger. The book is, of course, sad but also shows the resilience people find in the darkest situations and the beauty of life, contrasted with the cruelty of life. Highly recommended.

Mar 25, 2017

A must-read for anyone trying to understand the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. I read this while in Cambodia and visiting the Killing Fields and S21 Prison. I learned not to read this book just before going to bed, for I was sure to have bad dreams. Reading the book while visiting present day Cambodia, made me realize how Buddhism and the concept of compassion have helped Cambodians heal. “Every family has the same story.” I heard over and over again. “We’ve learned to live in harmony.”

Apr 20, 2016

Incredibly heart-breaking. The intense feeling of guilt the narrator felt was conveyed really well, as well as the feelings of inadequacy and "undeserving" of her survival.
The family's ability to adapt to such an abrupt change was very admirable in the beginning. It was sad to see the decline of that ability, as well as the decline of resilience as things went on. This book showed that it takes a lot to break the human spirit, but hope can still remain, so long as you have something to hold on to.

Aug 15, 2013

This is well written, and (as often happens when I read historical fiction) I learned a lot about the regime while reading this. It could have "captured" my attention a bit more, but I think one of the reasons I wasn't "dying to pick it up" is because it was really depressing & difficult to read at times because the brutality of the regime was just unreal. The tragedy that the author (and main character) lived through is just so hard to comprehend. How do so many pple get SO messed up and view the world in such messed up ways?!?! It's also hard to believe how relatively recent this all happened.

Mar 14, 2013

Ordinary prose, conventional story-telling.

gracindaisy Jan 05, 2013

Beautifully written story of Cambodia & survival under the Khmer Rouge.

Oct 24, 2012

The first two-thirds of this book were somewhat slow and, for me, overly detailed. The final third of the book, however, focuses on the escalation of Khmer Rouge brutality as the revolution starts to unravel and, as such, is powerful and highly moving. I finally began to feel the characters' despair and to admire (and root for) their tenuous hold on hope. The author's notes at the end of the book, which explain that this writing is essentially her own story, were equally poignant. Ultimately, it was well worth working through the first part of the book to get to the heart at the end.

Sep 25, 2012

She writes poetically eg.

"I heard noses outside, the hums and drones of night creatures.An owl hooted, and another answered, telling each other an endless tale......

The crickets made whirring music to accompany the owls' tale. The trees stirred to listen. Once in a while the wind yawned."

A feeling of awe for her writing came over me. I was impressed.

Cdnbookworm Sep 16, 2012

This novel takes us to Cambodia in the late '70s, in the time of the civil war. Raami is seven years old, the oldest daughter in a royal family. She wears a leg brace as a result of polio. She lives in Phnom Penh, with her father and mother and little sister Radana, her aunt Tata, and Grandmother Queen.
When the Khmer Rouge take over the city, Raami and her family are forced to flee their home. At first they go to their country home, near the Mekong river, but are soon forced out of that by the revolutionary soldiers as well.
As they join others, living in makeshift shelters, forced into further and further hardships, separated from those they love, Raami tries to keep her father's advice in mind. He told her that you can always find a tiny glimpse of beauty no matter what ugliness and destruction is around you. Raami's Papa is a poet and has told her stories ever since she was little, engaging her imagination and teaching her the myths of the Cambodian spiritual world. While witnessing the world changing around her, Raami keeps her imagination and the stories. She is a witness even while being a victim of the regime. Raami's voice is strong and individual and brings the novel to life before us. Raami is a child who is forced to mature under harsh conditions, forced labour and the loss of family members, but she hangs on to a bit of that childhood innocence throughout.
The author was also young, only five, when she too was forced out of her royal house with her family. Bringing portions of her own history into this story adds to the emotional integrity of the book, and the afterword, where she tells us briefly of her own story and her own return to Cambodia as an adult, is moving.
I also found the mention of the youth of many of the soldiers interesting, given the large number of child soldiers today in the Middle East and Africa. This seems to be a theme common to internal uprisings that warrants discussion.
This book is an amazing read, bringing a country in a difficult historical time to life for the reader. I highly recommend it.

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