In the Shadow of the Banyan - Vaddey Ratner

Raami, a precocious Cambodian child-princess, narrates this sobering tale of life and loss. It is a fictional version of the author's own family history during the Khmer Rouge's devastating power grab in 1975. Their motto "To destroy you is no loss, to preserve you is no gain" wasn't an idle threat, but a template for terror. The imposition of martial law culminated in the forced relocation, starvation and slaughter of millions of Cambodians over their four year reign. Her father's poetry, folk tales and Buddhist fables gave Raami comfort and helped her to survive the dehumanizing randomness of daily life: "Stories are like footpaths of the gods. They lead us back and forth across time and space and connect us to the entire universe, to people and beings we never see but who we feel exist." But it was real life experiences that forced her to adapt. After another pointless death her mother cautioned her: “Your father may have brought you wings, Raami. But it is I who must teach you to fly. I want you to understand this. This is not a story." Eventually, even the power of language failed to sustain her, and she elected to abandon speech completely.

Veddey Ratner Is a gifted storyteller with a prodigious talent for turning prose into poetry. She has created a powerful historical document that honors her family and clarifies and gives context to the suffering of millions of victims of this modern day atrocity. It is a powerful reminder of the risk of letting ideology trump reason and reality. Surprisingly, she is less successful at building an emotionally-gripping momentum. This came as a shock to a sentimental sap like me who weeps easily and with gusto. Maybe it was the lyricism of her writing style which diminished its impact. Or it may have been my own defense against the horrors she endured. Which ever, it in no way diminishes her achievement, or the bravery and resilience of the Cambodian people. It is comforting to learn that an international court has been convened and some of the perpetrators of this evil are being brought to justice. If they are looking for the testimony of victims, this is an excellent place to begin.