Ratner stirs feeling — sorrow, sympathy, pleasure — through language so ethereal in the face of dislocation and loss that its beauty can only be described as stubborn ... Here, as in her debut novel about Cambodia’s genocide, In the Shadow of the Banyan, Ratner forges many musical phrases from conflict ... Music of the Ghosts has itself been fashioned by a writer scarred by war, a writer whose ability to discern the poetic even in brutal landscapes and histories may be the gift that helped her reassemble the fragments of a self and a life after such shattering suffering.
...a sensitive, melancholy portrait of the inheritance of survival — the loss and the pain, as well as the healing ... The novel throbs with heartache, as well as with frank descriptions of cruelty and misery. It’s a harrowing, personal portrayal of a dark stain on modern history, one in which Americans played a significant part ... The pace is plodding at times, and there are some stumbles in the prose, which strives for a musicality Ratner doesn’t quite pull off. But despite its faults, Music of the Ghosts is an affecting novel, filled with sorrow and a tender, poignant optimism.
As Ratner leads her readers to the ultimate collision of guilt and forgiveness, darkness and song, she offers instruction in history and Cambodian culture, some of which is seamlessly interwoven into the lush narrative and some of which feels interruptive, perhaps didactic. There are places, too, where the language overreaches, where a single descriptor might have been more powerful or a simpler word might have gotten the job done ... The deeper I read into Music of the Ghosts, the more engrossed I became in the tangled skeins that define her characters' lives, in the history that her fiction illuminates, in the perceptions that could break a reader's heart.
Ratner’s descriptions of Teera’s confrontation with her past, even as she experiences, once again, the beauty of her homeland, alternate with the old man’s memories of his life in captivity with his old friend, Teera’s father. The juxtaposition is unnerving and powerful as the reader is transported from scenes of unbearable torture to glimpses of monks arriving at a temple, their saffron robes 'like a row of candle flames moving across the land.' Ratner, herself a Cambodian refugee, has penned another haunting, unforgettable novel.
Ratner’s captivating novel is a tragic odyssey of love, loss, and forgiveness ... As the title suggests, the songs and stories of ghosts fill the pages of this novel. Ratner, who lived through the rule of the Khmer Rouge herself, weaves a moving tale of hope and heartbreak that will accompany readers long after they finish the last page.
The novel is organized in three movements: the first is a careful exposition of grief and unresolved remorse as themes; the fast-tempoed second covers a period of months as the characters interact with each other while remembering individual pasts of 'so much cruelty, so much generosity'; the third resolves the initial themes while attaching hope—for the human characters and possibly Cambodia, Ratner’s true central character. Lush with tropical heat and heated emotions, this is no easy read but impossible to put down.