Monday, March 3, 2014
A Serious Read
I tend to be a seasonal reader. Correct that...I read all the time, but the books I read vary with the seasons. In summer I tend to read lighter books and I reserve the more serious or darker books for the colder winter days. Somehow it seems strange to read a tragic story when during warm sunny summer days. But serious books are perfect for reading by the fire cradling a hot drink or glass of wine.
In the Shadow of the Banyan is a wonderful historical fiction by Vaddey Ratner. It is a first person account of the tragic takeover of Cambodia by the communist Khmer Rouge and the subsequent horrors that broke families apart and led to the deaths of two million people. The people were driven from the cities. Families were separated. Anyone thought to be intellectual was killed. Anyone who looked or walked or laughed like Viet Namese was killed. The people were taken from the cities to rural areas where the Khmer Rouge hoped to establish a communist rural society. People were moved around often to prohibit them from establishing relationships with one another.
In the words of the author, the Khmer Rouge told the people, "To keep you is no gain, to destroy you is no loss." And destroy them they did. Families, including young children were put to work in the fields from sunrise to set. They were starved, tortured, and executed. When they died their families were not permitted to properly bury them. They were placed in the fields as fertilizer. During the four years of the "killing fields" more than a third of the Cambodia population were killed.
This story is all the more moving and powerful because the author actually lived through the turmoil. She was only five years old when her family was uprooted from their home and forced to become laborers. The author decided to write the book as historical fiction rather than a memoir because she was so young and her memories incomplete. The narrator of the fictional version is seven. Her father was taken away and throughout the book, memories of him with his stories and poems give some solace to the little girl.
In the Shadow of the Banyan is an intriguing read. Cambodian legends and fables are woven into the story as is the poetry of the author's father. This book will definitely encourage you to refresh your own memories of that time. Or if you don't remember the time, you will want to do a bit of research on the horrific war. Unfortunately actions by the US Government prior to and during the conflict contributed to the Khmer Rouge's ability to take over the country for four years. What a tragic waste.