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In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel Audiobook, by Vaddey Ratner Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Vaddey Ratner Narrator: Greta Lee Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: August 2012 ISBN: 9781442349872
4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (3,376 ratings) (rate this audio book)
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Told from the tender perspective of a young girl who comes of age amid the Cambodian killing fields, this searing first novel—based on the author’s personal story—has been hailed by Little Bee author Chris Cleave as “a masterpiece…utterly heartbreaking and impossibly beautiful.”

For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours, bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus.

Over the next four years, as she endures the deaths of family members, starvation, and brutal forced labor, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of childhood—the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival.

Displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is testament to the transcendent power of narrative and a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.

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Quotes & Awards

  • In the Shadow of the Banyan is one of the most extraordinary and beautiful acts of storytelling I have ever encountered…This book pulls off the unsettling feat of being—at the same time—utterly heartbreaking and impossibly beautiful. There are some moments in this story that are among the most powerful in literature. This is a masterpiece that takes us to the highs and lows of what human beings can do in this life, and it leaves us, correspondingly, both humbled and ennobled.”

    Chris Cleave, New York Times bestselling author of Little Bee

  • “Vaddey Ratner’s novel is ravishing in its ability to humanize and personalize the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s. She makes us look unflinchingly at the evil that humankind is capable of, but she gives us a child to hold our hand—an achingly believable child—so that we won’t be overwhelmed. As we have passed from one century of horrors and been plunged into a new century giving us more of the same, In the Shadow of the Banyan is a truly important literary event.”

    Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

  • “‘Words…turn a world filled with injustice and hurt into a place that is beautiful and lyrical,’ says Vaddey Ratner’s father in her stunning debut novel, and this is exactly what she has accomplished. Ratner has managed to conflate a child’s magical and indomitable hope with the horrific experience of the Khmer Rouge genocide to create a work that at once both deeply wounds and profoundly uplifts. With lyrical and breathtaking prose, Ratner plunges us into the midst of the nightmare that was thrust upon her, and yet, even amidst the darkness of starvation and violence, she never abandons us to despair. She always offers us the glimmering thread of hope and of love. She offers us wings. In a book rich with Buddhist teachings, the mythology of Cambodia, and the natural beauty of her world, Ratner weaves a moving tribute not only to her father and family but to victims of all genocides—past, present, and future.”

    Naomi Benaron, Bellwether Prize–winning author of Running the Rift

  • “The horrors committed by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, as experienced by one extremely resilient girl. A brutal novel, lyrically told.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “The struggle for survival is relayed with elegance and humility in Ratner’s debut…This stunning memorial expresses not just the terrors of the Khmer Rouge but also the beauty of what was lost. A hauntingly powerful novel imbued with…the devastation of monumental loss and the spirit of survival.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred)

  • “For all the atrocities witnessed and hardships experienced, Ratner’s story is filled to an even larger extent with opportunism and beauty. Ratner’s gift is her exquisite descriptions of the careful details of daily life…Ratner describes her desire to memorialize the loved ones she lost with an enduring work of art. She has done just that; hers is a beautiful tale with considerable poetry and restraint. In the Shadow of the Banyan is an important novel, written by a survivor with unexpected grace and eloquence.”


  • “Her heartrending, mournful tale depicts the horrors of the killing fields and the senselessness of the violence there while still managing to capture small, beautiful moments…By countering the stark and abject reality of her experience with lyrical descriptions of the natural beauty of Cambodia and its people, Ratner has crafted an elegiac tribute to the Cambodia she knew and loved.”


  • “An emotionally moving story…This tale of physical and emotional adversity grips readers without delving into the graphic nature of the violence that occurred at the time…Ratner’s contemplative treatment of her protagonist and the love shared among the family stands in stark contrast to the severe reality they faced each day to survive. Knowing that the story was culled from Ratner’s experiences as a child brings a sense of immediacy to this heartrending novel likely to be appreciated by many readers.”

    Library Journal

  • “Often lyrical, sometimes a bit ponderous: a painful, personal record of Cambodia’s holocaust.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “Vividly told…A message of hope and [a] reminder of the depth of human spirit. Stories like this reach deep inside us and are, dare I say, life-changing?”

  • Selected for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award
  • An Amazon Best Book of the Month Editor's Pick, August 2012
  • A Historical Novels Review Editors’ Choice
  • One of the 2012 Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books for Fiction
  • A 2013 PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award Finalist
  • Selected for the August 2012 Indie Next List
  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A New York Times Editor’s Choice
  • A People Pick of the Week
  • An Oprah’s Summer Reading List Selection for 2012

Listener Reviews

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  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ann | 2/20/2014

    " It is hard to rate this book because it is so uneven. The first 200 pages dragged, but the last 100 were so horrific that I couldn't put it down. This book is basically an auto-biography, written in the first person as a novel. I think that is part of the problem. Names were changed except for her father's. Facts may or may not have been changed. It was a horrible period in Cambodian history and the story needs to be told. I am just not sure this is the best way to do ot. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Becky | 2/18/2014

    " Beautifully written book about a very tragic time in Cambodian history. Brought me to tears on several occasions. Haunting. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mary | 2/14/2014

    " Beautiful, lyrical prose. Astonishing survival story from an imaginative little girl's perspective. The way she used stories to try and make sense of what was happening to her- creative and thought-provoking. I loved this book, I couldn't stop reading it, especially the second half. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Marnie | 2/11/2014

    " The start was 3.5 but it ended as a 4. A book that makes you wonder at people - both their depravity and their humanity. Not as good as When Broken Glass Floats but still very interesting. Sent me to do research on Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 C | 2/8/2014

    " This is an amazing book based on a true story. Intense. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tiki | 2/7/2014

    " What a heartbreaking novel, rich in Cambodian culture and folklore but tragic in its contemporary history. Why does man's inhumanity to man never cease to amaze me? It happens again and again on every corner of the earth and the Khymer Rouge were no exception. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Nirupa | 2/6/2014

    " Amazing book about the Cambodian genocide from a child's perspective. it is fiction but written by a survivor of the genocide based on her memories. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Karen | 1/19/2014

    " This one is hard to rate, and I would probably give it a 3 1/2 star rating if I could. It is well written and tells an important story. Much of the writing is beautifully descriptive. But, I found a lot of the dialogue to be stiff and overly formal, and too "meaningful" to grab me emotionally. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Robin | 1/18/2014

    " Astonishingly, breathtakingly beautiful for such a brutal and heartbreaking story. I think this one will stick with me for a long time. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Sangeeta | 1/15/2014

    " hauntingly sad. as soon as i finished this i went online to learn more about the abomination of the cambodian killing fields. Unbelievable what humans do to each other. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kimberly | 12/14/2013

    " Although a little slow in places, and difficult to begin, In the Shadow of the Banyan was a lovely story, and a wonderfully written glimpse of the Cambodian experience of revolution in the 1970s. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ann | 12/5/2013

    " Incredible story (actually a memoir) of a child's survival of the Khmer Rouge regime. Horror outdone by the beauty of nature and goodness. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jackballoon | 12/4/2013

    " Incredibly tragic. So well written, it was sometimes hard to believe it was told by a 7yr old girl. At one point she said, animals don't hurt you if you leave them alone, but humans do. A wonderfully tragic story about a tragic period. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jessica | 12/4/2013

    " Even though this story is horrific, there is so much beauty in it. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Sonia | 12/4/2013

    " A powerful story focused on one family's struggles and hopes as they endure the Khmer Rouge's regime in Cambodia, starting in 1975. A story of survival that will fill you with sadness and yet lift you with it's message of hope, love and family. Broadly based on the author's own life story. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Anna | 10/4/2013

    " Not as good as I thought it would be. Expected more history into the fall of Cambodia. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Renee | 9/17/2013

    " Powerful, moving story about a Cambodian family during the time of the Khmer Rouge. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Karen | 7/27/2013

    " Had to stop. Too beautiful and full of hope outside lately to read such a heartbreaking tale. May revisit. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Deede | 7/10/2013

    " Haunting story of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970's based on the author's own experiences of being sent to the country side and almost worked and starved to death as a child. Reminded me of The Killing Fields. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Robin | 7/4/2013

    " Incredibly well written, but so totally depressing knowing that the story was closely based on the author's real experience as a child in Cambodia. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Suzanne | 6/24/2013

    " It had beautiful passages and was deeply tragic, but overall there was something off in the pacing. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Christine | 5/6/2013

    " I'm always impressed with a story that takes true tragedy and shows a character who is maintain some sort of light. This is a novel, but it is based on true events which makes it all the more tragic. It is based on events which the parents of one of my best friends survived, which breaks my heart. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Anna | 2/20/2013

    " Very sad story of the Khmer Rouge atrocities and genocide in the mid to late 1970s told from the perspective of a 7 year old girl. Beautifully written and moving. I recommend it! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Amy | 11/4/2012

    " This wad an amazing book. I can't imagine having to go through a revolution and try to keep my family together. "

About the Author

Vaddey Ratner was five years old when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. After four years, having endured forced labor, starvation, and near execution, she escaped while many of her family members perished. In 1981, she arrived in the United States as a refugee not knowing English and, in 1990, went on to graduate as her high school class valedictorian. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Cornell University, where she specialized in Southeast Asian history and literature. In recent years she has traveled to and lived in Cambodia and Southeast Asia, writing and researching, which culminated in her debut novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan. She lives in Potomac, Maryland.