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.


Anonymous said...

I remember this tragedy unfolding. I remember The Killing Fields. It is hard to truly fathom the depths of despair and destruction visited upon a people by their own government.

NanaNor's said...

I love book reviews and this story sounds intriguing. Thanks for sharing.
Hugs, Noreen

Lise said...

I'm at a loss, after reading your review. I'm drawn into this book without ever turning a page, pushed away by the horror of it, intrigued by the horror of it.

Life (external to my little circle) is peculiar and disturbing most of the time. We watched the PBS news this evening and I can't come to terms with the events in Ukraine.

What happened to "all you need is love?" I know it isn't reality, but can't this be something we strive for? I'm distressed by it this evening.

KB said...

That does sound like a dark, but very educational, book. I'm intrigued... Thank you.

Ms. A said...

I think I might be way too emotional for this one. I've been having a hard time keeping a handle on it as it is.

Arkansas Patti said...

You have prodded my interest about this book and a time in history I know little about.
I am the reverse of you. I like light and funny in winter and heavy in summer. I like to be able to step into the sunshine when a book gets painful to read and I want to put it aside for a while.
I'll put it on my TBR list--for Spring, if that season ever gets here.

Busy Bee Suz said...

As much as I love non fiction...this will too depressing for me. I know, it is 'real' stuff, therefore I will be saddened for a long time. Yep, I'm all about the 'fluff'.

Tara said...

sounds like a powerful story. I remember that history all too clearly. Whatever happened to "we will never let this happen again" ?

Ginnie said...

Historical fiction is my favorite type of book to read. Thank you so much for the review and I will put it on my library list right now.

NCmountainwoman said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

Suz - I cannot watch documentaries on such horrors but I do read about them. Less distressing that way.

Vicki Lane said...

Mmmm...sounds like a should-read that I will have to get myself into the right frame of mind before diving in. .. Thanks for the review!