In the Shadow of the Banyan, Vaddey Ratner’s first novel, tells the story of Raami’s struggle to survive under the Khmer Rouge ... How is it that so much of this bleak novel is full of beauty, even joy? ... Throughout, Ratner stays true to the perspective of a child. (To be sure, a child with a poetic bent.) ... As a work of fiction, In the Shadow of the Banyan is less a testament to atrocity than a reconciliation with the past.
Nearly 30 years later, novelist Vaddey Ratner, a Cambodian survivor of her country's descent into a maelstrom of self-destruction, has taken a markedly different approach. For a tale about genocide, In the Shadow of the Banyan is unexpectedly quiet ...instead of a tableau full of slaughter, Ms. Ratner offers an intimate account of the destruction of a single family during the Khmer Rouge's hold on power ...follows the wanderings of the girl and her family as they and other families are driven from one place to another, like cattle, by the revolutionary army ... The novel's fidelity to real life gradually turns out to be a source of weakness. Though rendered in often lovely prose and marked by many emotionally wrenching passages, In the Shadow of the Banyan feels insufficiently imagined, almost like a diary.
In the Shadow of the Banyan, Vaddey Ratner’s first book, is an autobiographical novel about Raami, a 7-year-old with polio, torn from her extended royal family in the mid-1970s during the Khmer Rouge regime ... The impetus for Ratner’s book is her own visceral memory of the terrifying passage from cosseted youth to homeless, crippled adolescent on the verge of death ... Like other novels relying too particularly on remembered experience, In the Shadow of the Banyan, veers into sentimentality and didacticism. This isn’t a fully imagined narrative so much as a (justifiable) indictment of the Khmer Rouge and an (understandable) hagiography of Ratner’s own father ...this story could have been told more powerfully with a more dexterous approach to content and style.
The agony of that black secret is at the heart of Ratner’s new book, In the Shadow of the Banyan, a thinly fictionalized account of her years under the control of the Khmer Rouge ...a story of terror and blight and the human capacity to inflict suffering on one another. But it’s also a tale of perseverance, hope and the drive toward life, even under the worst circumstances ... Ratner’s book is an attempt to keep vigil with those souls, by bringing their memories to life ...piercing, lyrical book.
Vaddey Ratner was five when her world was destroyed, and her book, In the Shadow of the Banyan, while technically a work of fiction, borrows heavily and directly from her own experience ... The novel begins as many horror stories do, in an idyllic setting seemingly insulated from any danger. Young Raami's world is one of poetry, lotus ponds and butterflies ... Uncertainty, fear and hunger spread like wildfire among the displaced citizens. Raami's father, a well-known poet, copes by writing ...last 40 pages or so of the book are a hallucinatory glimpse into hell — an army of ghosts pushed on by nothing but basic survival instincts. Ratner's account of these dark days feels like memoir, the kind of thing that can't be authentically fictionalized without substantial firsthand knowledge.
Despite the grim circumstances, In the Shadow of the Banyan yokes the beauty of the lush terrain and farmland with haphazard cruelty and violence. The chapters are enlivened by the poems that Raami's father writes and recites, and myths and folk tales that live on in Raami's memory ... Historical breadth and a narrative momentum are the novel's greatest strengths. Vaddey Ratner traces the reign of the Khmer Rouge to its demise in a mere 315 pages, narrating the manifold tragedies that took place... is a compelling saga of a country during a troubled time little understood in the west, but it also shares similar weaknesses ... Ratner is a fearless writer, and the novel explores important themes such as power, the relationship between love and guilt, and class.
In this way, her novel exhales the lush Cambodian forest and rice paddies, lotus blossoms and dung beetles, water hyacinths and grasshoppers. It is also a well-paced depiction of the slow slide into starvation ...few fathers in literature, including Atticus Finch, are as idealized as the one here. Ayuravann knows his time with Raami is evaporating, and he uses it to instruct her in morality, Cambodian legend and poetry ... One strength of Banyan is the way Ratner reinterprets the Cambodian legends as Raami's circumstances worsen and her awareness grows ... Some of Ratner's prose is deft, but some is awkward, dipped in didacticism. Banyan works as an old-fashioned novel, bleached of all irony ... While Banyan offers some of the exotic-to-Westerners vividness of The Kite Runner, it isn't on par with the diary.
...Ratner tells the story of her survival in her gorgeous, tormenting first novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan. Through the eyes of Raami, a seven-year-old polio-stricken princess who has inherited her poet father’s love of language, Ratner bears witness to the unyielding human spirit ... Ratner sharpens the harrowing tale with sensual prose that often endows natural images with human qualities ...author makes all this bearable with moments of levity. Many of these arrive through Cambodian folktales, told by Raami’s elders, that illustrate the way story and myth help us cope with hardship ... Apart from its literary merit, In the Shadow of the Banyan demonstrates how ill-conceived revolutions fall apart.
Vaddey Ratner’s debut novel, In the Shadow Of The Banyan, also blends love, creativity, horror, and genocide, but the mix is far bleaker. The results are emotionally draining, but well worth reading to provide a look at an atrocity few modern Americans know much about ... Ratner’s work is remarkable in that it’s based on her actual experiences growing up in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge’s brief reign, and she’s preserved real-life details here... Lovely tales of birds trapped in lotuses, divine beings playing in storms, and martyring rabbits, combined with a few rare moments of compassion from strangers, provide needed relief to the pages that so often show the worst humanity is capable of...a deeply personal work that celebrates the endurance of the human spirit and the possibility of rebirth.
In debut author Vaddey Ratner’s case, she writes a masterpiece of a novel filled with so much raw power and beauty, it’s a miracle such a story that surely must’ve been difficult to write could find its way out at all ... Told from the perspective of seven-year-old Raami, the atrocities that occurred between 1975 and 1979 at the hands of the Khmer Rouge’s revolutionary socialist movement unfold in painstaking detail ... In the Shadow of the Banyan is foremost a novel about genocide and injustice ...despite its upsetting subject matter, what gives the book its heart is Ratner’s unrelenting focus on love ... Fair readers, this is perhaps one of the most waterworks-inducing books you’ll ever have the pleasure of reading.
For Raami, the child narrator of In the Shadow of the Banyan, stories bring salvation, giving her the strength to survive the Cambodian genocide ... This haunting debut novel is based on the amazing life story of author Vaddey Ratner, who was five when the Khmer Rouge came to power in the 1970s ... Although the fictionalized story of Raami — who is seven when the story begins — stands on its own, the reader’s knowledge of Ratner’s close personal connection to the material makes the novel feel even more intimate and devastating ...is an uplifting story, as Raami’s humanity — her fierce choice of life — is juxtaposed with the cruelty around her. Ratner’s lyrical prose and graceful descriptions serve as a lovely counterpart to bleak situations, reminding us of literature’s ability to transcend.
While names are changed (though not Ratner’s father’s name, which she keeps to honor his memory) and events are conflated, an author’s note clarifies how little Ratner’s novel has strayed from her actual memory of events ... Often lyrical, sometimes a bit ponderous: a painful, personal record of Cambodia’s holocaust.
The struggle for survival is relayed with elegance and humility in Ratner’s autobiographical debut novel set in Khmer Rouge–era Cambodia ... Raami’s story closely follows that of Ratner’s own... This stunning memorial expresses not just the terrors of the Khmer Rouge but also the beauty of what was lost. A hauntingly powerful novel imbued with the richness of old Cambodian lore, the devastation of monumental loss, and the spirit of survival.