Thursday, August 23, 2012

In the Shadow of the Banyan, Vaddey Ratner

War entered my childhood world not with the blast of rockets and bombs but with the my father's footsteps as he walked through the hallway, passing my bedroom toward his.

In the Shadow of the Banyan is set between the years of 1975-1979 in Cambodia, when the Khmer Rouge regime took power, as "Revolutionaries" who would change the country for good. Instead, they killed about two million people and probably ruined the whole country. In the Shadow of the Banyan is about seven-year old Raami, one of the many inhabitants of Phnom Penh who is taken out of the city and into the countryside, with her mother, father, and younger sister. Gradually, only herself and one of her family members are left, as the others are taken by the "Organization" or by malaria. Raami takes courage and holds on to who she is by remembering the stories that her father told her, while meanwhile the Khmer Rouge discourages people from remembering the past. The Khmer Rouge are obviously Communists, and this is one of the many instances in which Communism went terribly wrong, and resulted in disaster. Throughout the book, the Khmer Rouge tortures and shifts people around indiscriminately, but also, in trying to boost rice production, they cause a famine. Basically, the bureaucrats are trying to tell the rice farmers how to farm, when they obviously have no idea how to do it.

The book itself was really moving; it focused on one (royal) family's exile, but also the atrocities committed against everyone. Raami is only seven years old when it starts, and her childhood is left behind forever. Just like in Journey Into the Whirlwind (a memoir) or 1984, a faceless government (Big Brother, The Organization), controls people's lives, and no one knows who or what it is. I understand the Communist ideal of everyone being equal, but what's the point of that when everyone has absolutely nothing: no food, poor shelter, and unsanitary conditions? And I'm sure there were some rich leaders sitting in giant mansions feasting themselves in the capital. I'm also rather ashamed that the developed countries like the US or the United Kingdom didn't do much (well, perhaps they did, but not enough to affect the people for four long years.)

I seem to be focusing more on the issue in general (incidentally, I had never heard of it before I read this book), but really, I think In the Shadow of the Banyan was probably a very accurate portrayal, even though it is fiction. The author herself was five years old in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took power. I received this one from Simon & Schuster and really enjoyed it, though it could be practically heartbreaking at times.

Read In the Shadow of the Banyan:
  • if you are interested in Cambodia
  • if you enjoy (that's not really the right word is it?) fiction about Communist, or other government, oppression
  • if you are interested in the Khmer Rouge regime
  • if you are interested in southeast Asian conflict
315 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

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