Book 31

In the Shadow of the Banyan. 

Vaddey Ratner.


One of the most poignant and powerful stories I have read so far in this hundred books from a hundred countries project.

Based on the author’s life, told from the perspective of a young girl from Phnom Penh living through the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. 

Just as the war in Vietnam was ending the KR came to power in neighbouring Cambodia, a country whose government, like so many in the region, was propped up by western powers. I don’t need to go into the historical background, suffice to say the three year reign of terror the KR held over this country is possibly the worst period of internal genocide any country has lived through. For a glimpse at this period watch the Killing Fields, a very well made film documenting one Cambodian journalist as he struggles to survive through, well, the killing fields. 

I couldn’t help having flash backs to the movie as I read this book. Ms Ratner is a story teller of best kind, her characters really come to life and you feel so much of what they feel. Her writing is vivid, lucid and alive. She paints a picture of the hardships and sorrow of loss an entire nation suffers through the innocent eyes of a little girl as the world crumbles around her. Not at all embarrassed to say I shed a few tears reading this amazing story.

It was hard to put down the book once I started it despite the gruesome sequence of events it portrays, it is all so very real and heartbreaking so head scratching and thought provoking as well. How can one group of leaders inflict so much hell on their own people? The brutality, suppression and killing is heart breaking and mind numbing but the story and realness  of the author’s experience is compelling and a must read if you are interested in the history of this region.  

I was fortunate enough to have visited Cambodia, but purposefully avoided visiting anything to do with the KR period. It felt wrong to casualy pass through places that were marked by these horrors as a tourist. 
In the end this is a beautifully written book about a horrific period in history, a work that will grip your heart if you chose to read it. 

Next up: Indonesia! 


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