By Vaddey Ratner
Simon & Schuster, $25.00, 334 pages

Raami is seven years old when the Khmer Rouge come pounding at the gate. Her family must leave immediately. The war is over; the revolution has begun. So Raami, her baby sister, parents, aunt and Grandmother Queen – the head of their royal family – pack up and join the evacuation. They are moved, and moved again, on the orders of the Organization. The Organization, they are told, will take care of them. The Organization’s revolution will create a new Cambodia. Years of forced labor and starvation follow while Raami watches her family torn apart by separation, sickness and death. She cannot understand everything that’s happening, but there is hope to be found in the stories she remembers, the poems, fairy tales and love that act as Raami’s voice when she can’t speak.

A novel of beauty and pathos told with the language of dreams and memory, In the Shadow of the Banyan is an extraordinary first novel. Fiction based on the experiences of the author’s own childhood, it resonates with truth and has rare emotional strength. Vaddey Ratner shows exceptional talent with her lyrical prose, engrossing plot and rich characters.

Reviewed by Leah Sims