I know the old saying. We’ve all heard it. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While this may be true, we all know words are powerful. They can fuel passionate feelings, inspire change or even transport us to a time and place where gossamer threads cradle our most precious memories.
Author Vaddey Ratner opted to recount her very personal experiences as a child trapped in the middle of Cambodia’s civil war in the format of a novel. “In the Shadow of the Banyan” tells the story of young Raami, a member of one of Cambodia’s royal families, and her journey of survival at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
The depths of human cruelty are exceptionally heartbreaking when told through the voice of a child. Young Raami’s innocence ends when her father brings news to the family of a growing civil war that has now come dangerously close to their family home. Soon Raami’s world is turned upside down when the Khmer Rouge appears at their family home, seizing it as their own, and forcing them to flee with only what they can pack in a few short minutes. Despite their best efforts to stay together, Raami’s immediate and extended family is separated through a series of forced relocations. Forced into labor camps, hovering always at death’s door due to starvation, and surrounded by death, Raami’s survival seems unlikely.
One of the things I found the most disturbing is the way in which the Khmer Rouge exacted punishment for anyone who gave voice to their memories, their fear or their grief. This systematic stripping away of memory and history eventually leads Raami to choose to live in a world of muteness as she waits for death. “In the Shadow of the Banyan” is a potent example of the resiliency of the human spirit, even in the face of incomprehensible brutality.
Ratner is highly effective at vividly transporting the reader to this very specific place and time. The novel is prime material for film adaptation, but only if handled by a sensitive and skilled director.
I’ll say it again. Words have power. Ratner’s tale of unspeakable hardship and loss speaks to the soul of the reader, reminding us that even in our darkest moments, love and beauty surround us. Ratner’s eloquent story succeeds in honoring her family through the creation of an enduring, exquisite work of art. Her exceptional use of fantasy and folklore, intertwined with real-life events, is a strong reminder of the importance and power of our own unique oral and written history, as a means of staying connected with our culture, our loved ones, and our very identity.
“In the Shadow of the Banyan” will be available for purchase on August 7, 2012, or pre-order your copy now from your favorite book seller. For more information about about Vaddey Ratner, visit the author’s official website here.