Tuesday, May 21, 2013

In the Shadow of the Banyan

by Ratner, Vaddey

In the Shadow of the Banyan tells to story of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia in 1975. Ratner was a child when her family was uprooted and separated by the Khmer Organization, and this book is somewhat of a fictionalized account of their experiences. While I can see some value in the choice to narrate the story from the perspective of a child, I think the disadvantages outweigh that option. As a child, much of the atrocity of the situation was not realized or understood, therefore a lot of  the Khmer brutality goes untold, or told seemingly in passing. Particularly in the beginning, this telling avoids the horrors in lieu of poetry and fairy tales. When finally some of these details are told, the style is still so lyrical it doesn't make the required impact. Since the story is also very reflective and descriptive, the mature voice of the seven year old Raami doesn't always ring true. 

A very sobering tale told with too much sugary language to give credence to the gravity of the subject. While this book ultimately manages to give a glimpse into that brief period of Cambodian history, it is no Anne Frank story. 

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