Rating: 4/5 stars.
As a senior in high school, it scares me that I didn’t know how to properly pronounce “Khmer Rogue” before reading this book. Even worse was my ignorance of Cambodia’s history in the late 1970’s – the genocide that took place serves as a lesser-known Holocaust, the horrors these people endured similar to that of the Jews.
In the Shadow of the Banyan follows seven-year-old Raami as she witnesses the communist regime take everything away from her. Through her eyes Vaddey Ratner displays the evocative environment of Cambodia as it is torn asunder by the Khmer Rogue. Raami and her family are forced out of their home and into a world of brutal labor and starvation. She fights to survive, even as she loses her family members one by one.
As one might expect when reading a book about Auschwitz or the Holocaust, getting through Ratner’s work was a painful trial due to the extent of human suffering portrayed. While Raami’s narrative could be a bit dry at times, it never falters, taking into account all the details and stories one would expect from a child. That this book acts almost as the author’s account of her own childhood in Cambodia makes it even more touching and bittersweet.
Overall I recommend this book for those interested in a story of human sorrow, hope, and beauty, all delineated through the perspective of an insightful and honest seven-year-old girl.